The College Admissions Cheating Scandal: What the Latest Revelations Tell Us about the Scheme
As we learn more about Operation Varsity Blues and the wide-reaching schemes executed in the college admissions scandal, the FBI has revealed that it “is largest [crime] of its kind ever prosecuted and features 50 defendants across six states, millions of dollars in illegally funneled funds and a handful of the country's most selective universities.”
Those charged include....
Two SAT/ACT administrators
One exam proctor
9 coaches at elite schools including John Vandemoer, the head sailing coach at Stanford University, and Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, the former head soccer coach at Yale University
One college administrator (Donna Heinel, the senior associate athletic director at USC)
33 parents including celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin as well as William E. McGlashan Jr., a partner at the private equity firm TPG
William Singer, the ringleader in the scheme, owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC (“The Key”) – a for-profit college counseling and preparation business – and served as the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF) – a non-profit corporation that he established as a purported charity. He used both entities to funnel payments from parents and to university and test-taking officials.
As a part of the scheme, Singer instructed the parents of the students to seek extended time for their children on college entrance exams by having them purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain the medical documentation that the ACT and SAT testing companies usually require before granting students extended time. Once granted extended time, Singer would then have his clients change the location of their test to one of two test centers – one in Houston and the other in West Hollywood. At the two test centers, Singer had established relationships with test administrators who accepted bribes to facilitate the cheating scheme.
In other cases, Singer bribed the test administrators to allow a third-party to take the exams for students, to work as proctors while providing students with the right answers, or to review and correct student’s answers after they’d completed the tests. Clients paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per altered test. Payments were often structured as donations to KWF.
Singer earned the trust of clients by disclosing how he had run the same scheme many times in the past with other families. According to charging documents, Singer disclosed to one client, Gordon Caplan, jokingly:
“I mean, I’m sure I did 30 of them at different, you know, dates because there’s different dates, and they’re all families like yours, and they’re all kids that wouldn’t have perform[ed] as well, and then they did really well, and it was like, the kids thought, and it was so funny ’cause the kids will call me and say, “Maybe I should do that again. I did pretty well and if I took it again, I’ll do better even.” Right? And they just have no idea that they didn’t even get the score that they thought they got.”
Singer described the scheme to Caplan in a June 15, 2018 call, during which Singer explained that he had successfully engaged in the same scheme with nearly 800 other families.
The scheme also included a college recruitment component which took advantage of admissions slots at elite universities that are reserved for student athletes. Between 2011 and 2018, parents paid upwards of $25 million to bribe coaches and other university officials to designate their children as recruited athletes. As part of the scam, Singer, along with others, falsified athletic profiles for students including fabricating fake honors, positions on elite athletic teams, and staging photos of the children engaged in athletic activity.
None of the students have been charged in the case and investigators reveal that in most instances they did not know that their parents took part in the scheme that might have helped them get into college.
At a press conference revealing the case, FBI Special Agent in Charge, John Bonavolonta said,
“We believe everyone charged here today had a role in fostering a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for students trying to get into these schools the right way through hard work, good grades and community service.”