Fifty people, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, have been indicted in federal court over allegations that they paid large bribes to get their children into elite colleges, both ABC and NBC News are reporting. As everyone else on Earth will joke today: Whatever happened to just buying a wing of the arts building?
A recently unsealed complaint in the Massachusetts United States District Court published on Tuesday morning by NBC, centering on a former Yale soccer coach named Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, who prosecutors allege worked with a college prep advisor named William Rick Singer, the owner of a business called Edge College & Career Network, shows how the scheme is supposed to have worked.
Prosecutors allege that in 2015, Meredith agreed to accept bribes from Singer and “others known and unknown” to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in exchange for “designating applicants to Yale as recruits to the Yale women’s soccer team,” making it far easier for them to be accepted to the school.
The U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that Singer and Meredith did this kind of thing repeatedly, “retaining clients willing to pay bribes to university athletic coaches and administrators” in order to get their kids admission to “highly selective” colleges, each time designating those kids as recruits for an athletic team at the target school. They also allege that Singer funneled the payments through a “purported charity,” as they put it, called the Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF). According to their tax filings, KWF, a registered nonprofit, said the organization was created to help “underprivileged students” achieve their educational goals:
The Key Worldwide Foundation endeavors to provide education that would normally be unattainable to underprivileged students, not only attainable but realistic. With programs that are designed to assist young people in every day situations, and educational situations, we hope to open new avenues of educational access to students that would normally have no access to these programs. Our contributions to major athletic university programs, may help to provide placement to students that may not have access under normal channels.
In their 2016 tax forms, KWF reported assets of $2, 151,914 at the end of the year. Virtually all of the money coming into the organization came from contributions and grants, records show, $3.7 million worth that year alone.
Unlike a lot of charities, KWF’s substantial funds don’t seem to have flowed back out as easily as they flowed in: the same year, it paid out just $860,112 in grants and other assistance to domestic organizations, a fraction of what they were taking in. Documents also show they paid over $1 million in other expenses, which appears to be, in other words, substantially more than they were paying out in grants.
It’s ... not hard to see just where KWF fit in here, allegedly: in 2017, per court docs, Singer was introduced to the family of a Yale applicant, referred to as “Yale Applicant 1,” through a Los Angeles-based financial advisor. Soon after, the financial advisor’s employee is alleged to have sent an email to Singer, the court documents say, “stating that Yale Applicant 1's father wished to make a ‘donation’ to ‘one of those top schools’ for his daughter’s ‘application.’” The family allegedly sent over Applicant 1's materials, including an art portfolio; Singer is alleged to have written that he would “revise” the materials “to soccer.”
Both Singer and Meredith are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. According to ABC, some 200 pages of charging documents were also unsealed in federal court, and show that Felicity Huffman is accused of making “a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 ... to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter.” ABC reports that Huffman also allegedly made arrangements to do the same for her younger daughter “ before deciding not to do so,” per the documents.
Lori Loughlin, meanwhile, who’s a fixture in the Hallmark Channel’s cinematic universe and previously played Uncle Jesse’s wife on Full House, is accused in the documents of agreeing to pay “bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” per ABC. The news organization also reports that federal authorities obtained emails from Loughlin implicating her in the scheme.
Loughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade, is a beauty vlogger with over a million Instagram followers, just shy of two million YouTube subscribers, and a growing number of comments mocking her on social media, which isn’t quite fair: according to prosecutors, the children of the rich and famous weren’t aware that their college admissions were premised on a bribe.
As our former colleague Gabrielle Bluestone points out, that doesn’t mean Jade didn’t promptly start monetizing her college experience, though.
ABC also reports that what they call a “slew of chief executives” are also being charged in the scheme, though it’s currently unclear if everyone is facing the same wire fraud and conspiracy charges. The Boston Globe reports that the U.S. Attorney’s office released a statement saying charges have been brought “against dozens of individuals” involved in the alleged scheme.
According to the Washington Post, the evidence gathered in the case includes recordings secretly made by the FBI. In one instance, per the Post, a Los Angeles CEO of a “boutique marketing” firm named Jane Buckingham was recorded seeming to mock her son’s abilities, as she arranged to pay KWF an alleged $50,000 in exchange for getting someone to take a college entrance exam on his behalf:
The FBI secretly recorded Buckingham talking to one of the people arranging the test for her son. On the tape, according to the complaint, Buckingham talks about the complicated logistics of cheating on the test and said, “I know this is craziness, I know it is. And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.”
Update, 12:20 p.m.:
A reporter for ABC is reporting, that, per the prosecutor, Huffman and Loughlin were both arrested earlier today.
Update, 1:27 p.m.:
NBC has a conflicting report, stating that Loughlin is not in custody, but that a warrant has been issued for her arrest.