Getting into college can be an incredibly stressful time for high school students and their parents, who just want the best for their children. Often times, parents are so desperate for their child to get into a good university that they’ll do anything they can to help boost their child’s chances of being accepted.
According to the FBI, however, some wealthy and even famous parents have actually resorted to breaking a number of laws to get their kids into prestigious schools. Now, those parents are about to face justice…
Over the years, getting into prestigious schools has become increasingly competitive. As a result, many parents have become desperate to help their children get into the college of their dream and are willing to do just about anything to get ahead.
To help them get ahead in life, those desperate parents have resorted to paying for expensive SAT tutors, filling out their teenage child’s college applications, and even making sure their child has a well-rounded resume to put them ahead of other applicants with similar GPAs and SAT scores.
The College Coach
More than 10 years ago, William ‘Rick’ Singer from Newport Beach, California, recognized how much pressure families and students were under to get into the best colleges possible. So Singer, who describes himself as a father and a coach, started his own business to help families with the process.
According to Singer, he started his business, The Key, to help families by offering private life coaching and college counseling.”As founder of The Key, I have spent the past 25 years helping students discover their life passion,” Singer explained on The Key’s website.
The Key Method
The California-based company then explained that they helped prospective college students by “guiding them along with their families through the complex college admissions maze. Using The Key method, our coaches help unlock the full potential of your son or daughter, and set them on a course to excel in life.”
Parents looking to ensure their child would get into a good school flooded to Singer for his help. In addition to paying him for his unique services, many of Singer’s clients made donations to Singer’s charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation. According to Singer, the charitable donations would help underserved children.
Helping Disadvantaged Youth
“Your generosity will allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth,” Key Worldwide Foundation said in letters sent to clients to thank them for their donations. According to an FBI investigation, however, Singer wasn’t just a life-coach or adviser.
In reality, Singer was running an illegal college admission scheme where wealthy parents would pay large sums of money to ensure their children would be accepted into elite colleges around the country. Investigators also determined that those ‘charitable donations’ were bribe money and that most of the funds would be used to pay off test proctors, coaches, and athletic officials who Singer had involved in the nationwide admission scheme.
“Singer’s foundation purported to be a charitable organization, but was actually a front Singer used to launder the money that parents paid him,” Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a statement. On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, the massive cheating scheme was exposed when 58-year-old Singer and dozens of people, including two famous Hollywood actresses, who were involved in the scheme were officially charged for their crimes.
According to the FBI first discovered the scheme while working on a separate undercover investigation. After finding evidence of ‘large-scale fraud’, the FBI officially opened up an investigation that involved more than 200 federal agents across six states.
A Rigged System
The investigation took 10 months until charges were finally brought against 50 people including more than 30 parents and nine coaches. “Following 10 months of intense investigative efforts using a variety of sophisticated techniques, the FBI uncovered what we believe to be a rigged system,” John Bonavolonta, the FBI special agent in charge, said in a statement reported by NBC News.
Illegal and Immoral
According to Bonavolonta, the scheme not only broke the law, but it robbed “students all over the country of their right at a fair shot to getting into some of the most elite universities in this country.” Based on the investigation, it was determined that Singer accepted a predetermined amount of money from parents to guarantee their acceptance into a school. According to court documents, many students weren’t even aware that their parents resorted to bribery to get them into college.
Between 2011 and 2018, somewhere around $25 million were paid to coaches and administrators as bribes to influence acceptances into schools like Yale, Stanford, UCLA, Georgetown, the University of San Diego, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, and the University of Southern California.
Cheating On The SAT
According to Lelling, many of Singer’s clients paid him anywhere between $200,000 and $6.5 million. The money would then be used to cheat on college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT. Singer bribed a test administrator in Los Angeles and Houston so that students would be provided answers during the exam, have their tests corrected after it was completed, or even have someone pose as the student and take the exam for them.
Singer also used the money to pay off athletic coaches and administrators “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,” court documents explained. In some cases, photos of students playing sports were staged or even photoshopped on real athletes so college scouts could provide it when recommending students to the admissions office.
Wealth And Privilege
Many of the parents who have been charged include CEOs, successful real estate investors, a famous fashion designer, and even Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. “The parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Lelling said.
Full House Fraudster
According to court documents, Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, paid $500,000 to have their two daughters accepted to USC as designated recruits for the school’s crew team even though they did not even participate in the sport.
A Desperate Housewife
Huffman, who is married to actor William H. Macy, has already been arrested after she paid $15,000 so that their eldest daughter was given extra time to take the SAT. Her test was also secretly corrected after submitted her test and boosted her score by about 400 points. According to the FBI, they even have emails and recorded conversations where the actresses both talk about the scheme.
“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.” So far, Singer is cooperating and has pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, and obstruction of justice charges.
Cheating The System
“This is a case where [the parents] flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best money can buy,” Bonavolonta said during a news conference.”Their actions were, without a doubt, insidious, selfish and shameful.”