A massive nationwide college entrance exam cheating plot was exposed Tuesday, resulting in charges for dozens of people, including Full House actor Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives.
Among those charged are three accused of organizing the scheme, two ACT/SAT administrators, an exam proctor, one college administrator, nine coaches from elite schools, and 33 parents, US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said at a press conference Tuesday.
The scheme, referred to by the FBI as Operation Varsity Blues, involved facilitating cheating on SAT and ACT exams for students and bribing college administrators and coaches to recruit students as athletes, according to a criminal complaint from the FBI in Boston.
“There can be no separate college admissions system for the wealthy and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either,” Lelling said.
“For every student admitted through fraud an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”
For the college entrance exams, cheating was facilitated “in some cases by posing as the actual students, and in others by providing students with answers during the exams or by correcting their answers after they had completed the exams,” according to the criminal complaint.
“In many instances, the students taking the exams were unaware that their parents had arranged for this cheating,” the FBI said.
University athletic coaches and administrators were also allegedly bribed “to designate applicants as purported athletic recruits — regardless of their athletic abilities, and in some cases, even though they did not play the sport they were purportedly recruited to play.”
In some cases, photos of the students playing sports were staged, and some even had their heads photoshopped onto the bodies of real athletes.
Between 2011 and 2018, about $25 million in bribes were paid to the coaches and administrators.
The schools that admitted the students include Yale, Stanford, UCLA, Georgetown, the University of San Diego, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, and the University of Southern California.
William “Rick” Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, California, was the ringleader of the operation, funneling money through the Key Worldwide Foundation, a “purported charity” he had established, according to the US District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.
Singer has been charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice.
According to the affidavit, Singer bribed two test administrators — Igor Dvorskiy in Los Angeles, and Niki Williams in Houston — in order to pull off the scheme.
In exchange for the bribes, the test administrators would allow Mark Riddell, a counselor at a private school, to secretly take the exams for the students or correct their answers after they were done.
According to the criminal complaint, Huffman paid $15,000 to doctor the college entrance exam for her oldest daughter. Huffman is married to actor William H. Macy, who is referred to in the complaint as “spouse” but is not named and has not been charged, per the court documents.
Huffman was told that her daughter would take the SAT at a “controlled” testing center and that the organizer would arrange for a special proctor to administer the exam. The proctor would then correct the answers without her daughter’s knowledge.
Huffman initially ran into a roadblock when her daughter’s school tried to make her take the exam on its campus. In order for the scheme to work, she would need to arrange for the test to be administered at a location specified by one of the scheme’s orchestrators.
“Ruh Ro! Looks like [my daughter’s high school] wants to provide its own proctor,” she wrote, according to the affidavit.
Huffman also discussed carrying out the scam a second time with her younger daughter but later decided not to go through with it.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters into USC as recruits for the crew team, despite the fact that the children weren’t on a crew team.
To prove they played the sport, Giannulli sent photos of both daughters on an indoor rowing machine.
The individuals have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Several of the arrested are expected to appear in federal court Tuesday afternoon. Huffman has been arrested but Loughlin has not yet been, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles.
A representative for Huffman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A publicist for Loughlin told BuzzFeed News she was just learning of the charges and had no immediate comment.
Read the criminal complaint:
Igor Dvorskiy’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.