Parents, university coaches and a college-admissions counselor were among dozens charged Tuesday in a sweeping criminal conspiracy that sought to help applicants win admission to elite schools including Yale, Stanford, UCLA and Georgetown.
Wealthy parents — including celebrities, a top mergers attorney and a venture-capital CEO — are alleged to have paid bribes to get their kids into school, giving cash to test-takers to help students cheat on entrance exams and paying coaches to designate applicants as athletic recruits. Parents paid from $100,000 to $6.5 million in bribes, with most payments around $200,000, according to prosecutors.
“The parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney in Boston, said at a press conference. “The case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud.”
Investigators detailed a scandal that perverted much of the admissions process for America’s elite colleges. Unlike most other SAT cheating cases, the scheme reached deep into the academy, implicating college officials who allegedly subverted the missions of the universities themselves.
In all, the government said clients paid $25 million in bribes to coaches and administrators from 2011 to 2018. In some cases, the bribes would be disguised as charitable contributions. An informant involved in the alleged plot said clients could also pay $15,000 to $75,000 to cheat on each standardized test — in some cases, getting a proctor to change wrong answers in the test center.
“And it works?” one client asked an informant, according to court papers.
“Every time,” the informant replied, with a laugh.
Click here for the list of defendants and links to documents
The FBI informant said he told parents the alleged cheating and bribery amounted to a “side door” for wealthy parents at the most selective schools. The “front door” involved children getting in on their own merits, and the “back door” entailed making multimillion-dollar donations, which was legal though far more expensive.
“Who we are — what we do is we help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school,” the informant told parents. “They want guarantees, they want to get this thing done. They don’t want to be messing around with this thing. And they want in at certain schools.”
The charges come two weeks before Ivy League schools and other top universities are scheduled to announce admissions for the class of 2023. The scandal, perhaps the largest ever in admissions, is certain to call into question the process by which top colleges fill highly competitive freshmen classes, while highlighting the extremes to which some wealthy parents will go to win a seat. The charges were unsealed by prosecutors in Massachusetts, California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, and defendants included celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, who allegedly paid bribes to win admission for their children. Thirty-eight people were in custody and 33 parents were charged, prosecutors said.
Among the four dozen charged are top names in finance, philanthropy and law, including Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of the Willkie Farr & Gallagher law firm in New York; Manuel Henriquez, chief executive officer of Hercules Capital; and Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of Pacific Investment Management Co. Caplan and Henriquez are scheduled to appear in court later on Tuesday. Hodge and Caplan’s lawyer declined to comment.
“I know this is craziness, I know it is,” another defendant, Jane Buckingham, the founder of marketing firm in Los Angeles, said on an FBI recording in arranging for someone to take a test for her son, according to court papers. “I need you to get him into USC.”
An email to her firm wasn’t immediately returned.
Prosecutors accused the former women’s soccer coach at Yale, the senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California, the women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest University and the sailing coach at Stanford. A college prep school director is also charged. Calls to them weren’t immediately returned.