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Arrested: Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin Among 50 Charged in US College Fraud Scheme

Some 300 law enforcement agents swept across the country on Tuesday to make arrests in what agents code-named “Operation Varsity Blues,” breaking up a ring of high-profile clients buying their children’s way into elite universities.

(Reuters) – Federal prosecutors charged 50 people on Tuesday in a $25 million scheme to help actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, CEOs and other wealthy Americans cheat their children’s way into elite universities, including Yale and Stanford.

Federal prosecutors in Boston charged William “Rick” Singer, 58, with running the racketeering scheme through his Edge College & Career Network. His network served a roster of clients including actresses and chief executives in what prosecutors said was the largest-ever college admissions fraud scam unearthed in the United States.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney in Boston, said at a news conference. “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”

Prosecutors said Singer’s operation arranged for fake testers to take college admissions exams in place of his clients’ children, and also bribed coaches to give admissions slots meant to be reserved for recruited athletes even if the applicants had no athletic ability.

Parents paid from $100,000 to as much as $2.5 million per child for the services, which were masked as contributions to a scam charity Singer runs, prosecutors said.

Singer is scheduled to plead guilty on Tuesday in Boston federal court to charges including racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice, according to court papers. He could not be reached for immediate comment.

Some 300 law enforcement agents swept across the country on Tuesday to make arrests in what agents code-named “Operation Varsity Blues.” Huffman and Loughlin were among those arrested, and were due to appear in federal court in Los Angeles later on Tuesday, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have named 33 parents, 13 coaches, and associates of Singer’s business, but said the investigation continues and more parents and coaches may also be charged.

Other parents charged include Manuel Henriquez, the chief executive of specialty finance lender Hercules Capital; Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; Bill McGlashan Jr., who heads a buyout investment arm of private equity giant TPG Capital; and Douglas Hodge, the former CEO of the investment management firm Pimco.

Representatives for those companies and for Huffman and Loughlin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Huffman, who is married to fellow actor William H. Macy, starred in the ABC TV series “Desperate Housewives.” Loughlin, who was in the ABC sitcom “Full House” and the recent Netflix sequel “Fuller House,” is married to clothing company founder Mossimo Giannulli, who was also charged in the scheme.

On a call with a wealthy parent, prosecutors said, Singer summed up his business thus: “What we do is help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids into school … my families want a guarantee.”

Prosecutors said it was up to the universities what to do with students admitted through cheating.

Testers, Coaches Bribed

The scheme began in 2011, prosecutors said, and also helped children get into the University of Texas, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University, the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Part of the scheme involved advising parents to lie to test administrators that their child had learning disabilities that allowed them extended time to take the exam.

The parents were then advised to choose one of two test centers that Singer’s company said it had control over: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in West Hollywood, California.

The test administrators in those centers took bribes of tens of thousands of dollars to allow Singer’s clients cheat, often by arranging to have a student’s wrong answers corrected after completing the exam or having another person take the exam.

In many cases, the students were not aware that their parents had arranged for the cheating, prosecutors said, although in other cases they knowingly took part. None of the children are being charged for now.

Singer also helped parents stage photographs of their children playing sports or even Photoshopped children’s faces onto stock images of athletes downloaded from the internet to exaggerate their athletic credentials.

Once admitted, the students either never showed up on the field, played for a short while before dropping out or feigned injury, prosecutors said.

John Vandemoor, a former Stanford University sailing coach, is also scheduled to plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges.

Wake Forest said in a statement it had placed head volleyball coach Bill Ferguson on administrative leave after he was among the coaches accused of accepting bribes.

Three other cooperating witnesses, including a former head coach of women’s soccer at Yale, have agreed to plead guilty, prosecutors said.

According to the criminal complaint, investigators heard McGlashan of TPG Capital listening to Singer tell him to send along pictures of his son playing sports that he could digitally manipulate to make a fake athletic profile.

“The way the world works these days is unbelievable,” McGlashan said to Singer, according to court papers.

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