(CNN)Some parents allegedly flew their children across the country so they could take college admissions tests in a “controlled” setting where a proctor coached them on the answers.
Others are accused of staging photographs of their children participating in sports to include in fake athletic profiles for their college applications. One father paid someone to take classes in his daughter’s name to improve her grades, an affidavit says. Cheat. Bribe. Lie. Here's how the college admissions scam allegedly workedAll this, federal prosecutors allege, so their children could gain entry to elite American colleges and universities, including Yale, Stanford and the University of Texas, among others. Thirty-three parents face conspiracy-related charges in the sweeping investigation known as “Operation Varsity Blues,” said Andrew Lelling, the US attorney for Massachusetts. Read More”This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud,” Lelling said. The allegations lay bare the unbelievable lengths the parents are suspected of going to just to get their children into their schools of choice. As one parent said, according to an affidavit, “It’s so hard for these kids to get into college.” The CEO behind the college admissions cheating scam William Rick Singer, the plot’s accused mastermind, boasted to prospective “clients” that he created a “side door” to help wealthy families get their children into top US colleges. Singer’s side door, according to federal prosecutors, was a sprawling criminal enterprise masquerading as a charity that claimed to benefit “disadvantaged youth.” But instead of going to children in need, prosecutors say, Singer used parents’ “donations” to bribe college entrance exam administrators, coaches and school officials. Prosecutors allege the scheme funneled millions into the pockets of university employees and athletic programs while robbing deserving students of spots at competitive schools. In all, 50 people face charges, including two SAT/ACT administrators, one exam proctor, nine coaches at elite schools and a college administrator, Lelling said. The college admissions scandal is all about inequality, tooSinger pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, prosecutors said. Several defendants made their first court appearances Tuesday. The fallout has been swift and humiliating for many of the accused — just as one father predicted when discussing the scheme with Singer, according to an affidavit. “The embarrassment to everyone in the communities … ,” the man said, according to an excerpt of a wiretapped conversation. “Oh my God, it would just be — Yeah. Ugh.” Yale, Wake Forest, UCLA, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas and Georgetown responded to the news with statements calling themselves victims and in some cases announcing internal investigations and firings.The test cheating scandalThe allegations go back to 2011, involving defendants in six states in a web of wealthy families, exam administrators, athletic coaches and other school staff members. The scheme often began when a parent referred another to Singer’s nonprofit, Key Worldwide Foundation, or KWF. Some parents sought to shield their children from the alleged activity, according to prosecutors; others involved them directly. What we know so far in the college admissions cheating scandal Once a family agreed to the scheme, Singer would tell them to seek extended time for the exam by claiming a learning disability for their child. Receiving extra time would allow a student to opt to take the test somewhere other than their high school, according to prosecutors, such as two test centers where Singer had relationships with administrators who took bribes: defendants Niki Williams at the Houston Test Center, and Igor Dvorskiy at the West Hollywood Test Center. CNN has reached out to Williams and Dvorskiy for comment on the allegations. But for students to get extended time, they had to obtain medical documentation of learning disabilities. Singer offered guidance on this, too. Opinion: College cheating scandal is the tip of the icebergHe allegedly told a father that his daughter needed to act “stupid” when a psychologist evaluated her. Singer also suggested to Gordon Caplan that he hire a member of Singer’s staff to take classes as his daughter to improve her grades. CNN has reached out to Caplan for comment on the allegations. Caplan, a lawyer who lives in Connecticut, told Singer he had no “moral issues” about the scheme, according to an affidavit. Caplan is accused of donating $75,000 to KWF for Singer’s help setting up a “controlled” ACT exam for his daughter with a proctor who corrected her answers after she had completed it. Caplan said his concern was that his daughter would be “finished” if she got caught, according to an excerpt of a wiretap transcript. JUST WATCHEDFBI: Parents paid up to $6.5 million for guaranteed admission ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
FBI: Parents paid up to $6.5 million for guaranteed admission 00:51Caplan and his daughter flew to Los Angeles in July to meet with a psychologist for the medical documentation required to receive extended time on the ACT exam. When she received the extension, Caplan heeded Singer’s advice to return to California in December so his daughter could take the test in West Hollywood. Nevertheless, Caplan said he was still concerned that a student from Connecticut taking a test in California might arouse suspicion. Singer suggested they could say they were going to a bat mitzvah or a wedding, advice he dispensed to several clients, according to the affidavit. It’s not clear if Caplan acted on Singer’s advice to have someone take classes in his daughter’s name. But the affidavit alleges that other parents did, using one of Singer’s employees. The athletic recruitment scandalOften, Singer’s clients were repeat customers, according to prosecutors, bribing coaches as well as test administrators. In exchange for the bribes, coaches designated the children as athletic recruits regardless of their athletic abilities, even in cases when the children had no intention of participating. The coaches and staffers also face conspiracy charges for their alleged role in submitting the applications and shielding the families from consequences when the students did not actually end up playing on teams. Favorite TV moms embroiled in alleged college admissions scandal In some instances, the parents allegedly assisted Singer and the coaches in creating fabricated athletic profiles by providing staged photos of their children engaging in athletic activity. In other cases, they signed off on embellished or falsified resumes of their children’s accomplishments created by Singer and his associates, including some that used pictures of other children. Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying bribes totaling $500,000 to have their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team even though they did not participate in crew. For each application, the couple gave Singer photos of their daughters on an indoor rowing machine. They both attend USC and are not members of the crew team. CNN has reached out to the couple for comment. Their daughters — like the children of other accused parents — are not named in court documents, and they haven’t been charged. JUST WATCHEDWhat Lori Loughlin’s daughter said before attending USC ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
What Lori Loughlin’s daughter said before attending USC 01:17CNN has also contacted Iconix Brand Group, which owns Giannulli’s namesake fashion company, Mossimo.Another family vying to get their son into USC as a football recruit in 2015 sent photos of his brother, noting “the boys look alike.” After several rounds of emails to get the boy’s profile in shape, USC sent him a formal acceptance letter. The son deferred his admission, ultimately matriculating in 2017. He did not join the football team. His father sent a $75,000 check payable to the USC “Womens Athletic Board” to Donna Heinel, USC’s senior associate athletic director, who helped with his profile. She is accused of conspiracy to commit racketeering. One week later, the father wired $125,000 to The Key, Singer’s company, and $125,000 to KWF. Singer, in turn, directed a payment of $50,000 from KWF to a bank account controlled, in part, by Laura Janke, a former USC coach accused in the scandal. CNN has reached out to both defendants. USC said it has terminated Heinel in the wake of the charges.”We understand that the government believes that illegal activity was carried out by individuals who went to great lengths to conceal their actions from the university,” USC said. Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez of Atherton, California, are accused of participating in the cheating scheme on four separate occasions for their two daughters. CNN has reached out to them for comment. In August 2015, the affidavit claims that Singer helped the Henriquezes bribe Gordon Ernst, the head tennis coach at Georgetown University, to designate their older daughter as a tennis recruit to facilitate her admission to Georgetown. CNN has reached out to Ernst, who is now a coach at the University of Rhode Island. The school placed him on administrative leave and said in a statement that he has not been involved in recruiting current players or signing new ones. With Elizabeth Henriquez’s knowledge, Singer changed her daughter’s essay to include false statements about her aspirations to play tennis for Georgetown, according to an affidavit. Her application said she played “club tennis” throughout high school, earning a “Top 50 ranking” in the US Tennis Association Junior Girls Tennis for her sophomore through senior years, among other distinctions. But USTA records do not show that she played at any USTA tournaments in high school. Then, in fall 2015, prosecutors allege the Henriquezes paid Singer $25,000 to arrange for a proctor to correct their older daughter’s SAT exam after she took it at her school, prosecutors allege. Stanford is among the elite schools where the wealthy tried to gain entry.The proctor, who is cooperating with the government, told investigators that he sat “side-by-side” with her during the exam and gave her answers. After the exam, according to the affidavit, “he ‘gloated’ with Elizabeth Henriquez and her daughter about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it.” She received a score of 1900 out of a possible 2400, an improvement of 320 points over the best score she had previously achieved, prosecutors allege. The Henriquezes then allegedly made a deal with Singer to arrange their younger daughter’s ACT exam at the Houston Test Center in October 2016. Elizabeth Henriquez emailed a counselor at her daughter’s high school saying that they had to be in Houston on the day her daughter wanted to take the ACT. “Through connections there, we have been able to secure a site and a proctor to test [my daughter] for the two days,” her email said. The counselor responded, “No worries — thank you for letting me know.” The same proctor who oversaw the older daughter’s exam flew from Tampa to Houston for the exam on October 22, the affidavit alleges. The proctor told law enforcement that he discussed the answers during the exam with Henriquez’s daughter and another student, “but directed them each to answer different questions incorrectly in an effort to conceal their cheating,” according to the affidavit. Manuel Henriquez has voluntarily stepped aside as chairman and CEO of Hercules Capital, according to a company statement. He will continue as a member of the company’s board and an adviser to the firm, it said. Then what happened?Often, parents said their greatest concern was making sure that their children would not discover the alleged fraud, although it appears that in several cases, the children may have been involved in the alleged activities. Singer assured them they would never know, but the affidavit suggests that threats occasionally surfaced. In one instance, a mother told Singer that her son’s adviser at USC asked him about being a track athlete. Her son said he was not, because he did not know what his parents had done, “the way we want to keep it,” the woman said, according to an excerpt of a wiretap transcript. Singer told her not to worry. If the adviser — or anyone else — started asking questions, they would eventually end up talking to “the person who’s responsible for all of this,” he said. He was referring to Donna Heinel, USC’s senior associate athletic director, who is accused of helping to doctor the profile of the woman’s son, and many others. “She’ll just say he decided not — to not compete,” he said.