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College Admissions Scandal Involved Bribery, Cheating and Millions of Dollars

More than 40 people – including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin, USC and UCLA athletic coaches, business owners and wealthy parents – were indicted Tuesday in a complex conspiracy that involved bribery, cheating and millions of dollars to get their unwitting children into elite colleges across the United States.

Federal prosecutors in Massachusetts announced this morning that 13 of those indicted were arrested in Southern California, including USC senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel; former women's soccer coach Ali Khosroshahian; his former assistant coach Laura Janke; water polo coach Jovan Vacic; and Jorge Salcedo, UCLA’s soccer coach.

Following the government’s announcement of the charges Tuesday, the scheme’s alleged mastermind, William Rick Singer of Newport Beach, pleaded guilty in Boston federal court to racketeering, money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Singer, prosecutors said, established a for-profit company, Edge College & Career Company, along with a non-profit charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, to perpetrate the scheme. 

According to prosecutors, parents paid Singer $25 million since 2011 to "bribe coaches and administrators to designate their children as recruited athletes, or other favored admissions categories, to enhance their college applications.

Also according to prosecutors, the conspiracy also utilized ringers to take entrance exams in place of students for higher test scores, or used paid proctors to change their test answers. Parents’ goals, prosecutors said, was to get their children admitted to colleges including USC and UCLA, as well as Georgetown, Yale, University of Texas, Stanford and Wake Forest, court documents said.

Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer, indicted in college admissions scandal
Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer arrives for his arraignment on March 12th. | Scott Eisen/GettyImages

Their children, authorities said, had no idea what their parents were doing.

Hundreds of pages of court documents unsealed today revealed the allegations. Prosecutors charged the local coaches with conspiracy to commit racketeering. Huffman, Loughlin and other parents of high school-aged children face allegations of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Others indicted included Agustin Huneeus, who operates a vineyard in Napa Valley; Douglas Hodge, former CEO of Pimco investment; William McGlashan Jr. of TPG Capital;  Manuel Henriquez, chairman of Hercules Technology Growth Capital; Robert Flaxman, founder of Crown Realty & Development; and Robert Zangrillo of the investment company, Dragon Global.

In Southern California, the allegations hit USC and UCLA hard. 

Included in the indictment:

  • Janke helped an Edge College employee fabricate athletic profiles and other documents to bolster college applications to make it appear the student was a highly successful athlete when, in fact, he or she was not.
  • Singer bribed Vavic, Janke, Khosroshahian and Heinel to designate students as recruited athletes.
  • Janke and Khosroshahian designated four children of Singer's clients as USC women's soccer recruits, despite the fact none played competitive soccer. In exchange, Singer allegedly paid $350,000 to a private soccer club controlled by Janke and Khosroshahian.
  • Singer and others indicted in the scheme paid $250,000 to Vavic to designate two students as water polo recruits. Singer also allegedly paid the private school tuition for Vavic's children.
  • Singer paid more than $1.3 million to accounts controlled by Heinel. In exchange, she allegedly helped more than two dozen students gain admission to USC as recruited athletes, even though some did not even play the sport ascribed to them.
  • Singer paid $100,000 to an account controlled by UCLA's Salcedo to get his daughter into UCLA.
  • Singer paid bribes of $10,000 a student to Igor Dvorskiy, director of the West Hollywood College Preparatory School, to administer ACT and SAT tests, allowing a suspected ringer to take the tests, or to replace students’ answers with his own.
  • Loughlin and her husband, clothing company owner Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid $500,000 to get their two daughters into USC under the guise they were members of the crew team, documents said. Neither was a rower. Heinel allegedly presented the Giannulli’s daughter to the USC subcommittee for athletic admissions on Oct. 27, 2016. Two days later, Giannulli was told to send $50,000 to Heinel.
  • Prosecutors allege Huffman “and her spouse” paid $15,000 and met with an informant “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter.” According to the indictment, the daughter took the SAT and gained 400 points on her previous score, documents allege. Huffman is married to actor William H. Macy. He is not charged.

USC President Wanda Austin issued a statement today calling USC a "victim in a scheme perpetrated" by a long-time Athletics Department employee, one current coach and three former coaching staff.

"At this time, we have no reason to believe that Admissions employees or senior administrators were aware of the scheme or took part in any wrongdoing—and we believe the government concurs in that assessment," Austin said. "The government has repeatedly informed us that it views USC as a victim and that these employees purposefully deceived USC."

Austin said USC is reviewing admissions decisions and identifying funds allegedly linked to the government's accusations.

Khosroshahin, who worked at USC from 2007-2013, could not be reached for comment. His LinkedIn page lists him as an owner of the Newport Futbol Club in Newport Beach and founder of “Road to College Soccer,” which provided advisement and mentoring to prospective student athletes. He previously coached at Cal State Fullerton.

In an interview several years ago on topdrawersoccer.com, he expressed concern about other college coaches recruiting athletes as young as 14 years old and violating NCAA rules that prohibit having conversations with them. He declared himself an honest coach who had no problem turning in other coaches who violated the rules.

"There’s a lot of violations going on out there and no one’s getting turned in for them," he said. "So, what happens next? Everyone thinks they can do whatever they want." 

Singer’s 2016 tax return for Key Worldwide, obtained by SoCal Connected, listed more than $800,000 in donations to colleges and high schools including $150,000 to Chapman University in Orange; nearly $40,000 to Loyola High School in Los Angeles; $250,000 to the University of Texas and $75,000 to the USC soccer program and Women’s Athletic Board. 

Screen grab from Key Worldwide Foundation's 2016 tax returns of different donations they wrote off
Screen grab from Key Worldwide Foundation's 2016 tax returns, showing donations to Chapman University, Community Donations, DePaul University and Friends of Cambodia.

 

According to the 2016 and 2015 tax returns, the foundation gave $37,750 to Friends of Cambodia, an organization based in Palo Alto.

Its director, Elia Van Tayl, however, said he had never heard of Singer and had never received any money from Key Worldwide. He said he cannot accept funds because he is not a charity. Friends of Cambodia is a “donor advised fund” that raised funds for Give 2 Asia, a non-profit the Bay Area. 

Van Tayl called Singer’s tax listing “a total, total lie.”

“I’m 72 years old and I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” he said. “It makes me concerned I’m going to be caught up in the news.”

A spokeswoman for Loyola High School is checking to confirm it received a donation from Key Worldwide.

Chapman University issued a statement saying it is cooperating with the Justice department’s investigation. 

"Chapman prides itself on an open and fair admission process,” the statement said. “We are not aware nor have we been advised that we have been involved in any wrongdoing. Chapman University like all great institutions routinely receives funds from foundations and any irregularities in the gifts from the Key Worldwide Foundation, should they exist, were and are totally unknown to us.  We take this matter very seriously and intend to review this relationship in depth to assure ourselves that our principles have not in any way been compromised.”

Top Image: Lisa O'Connor, Tommaso Boddi/AFP/Getty Images

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