Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with at least 40 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centres to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, prosecutors said.
“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.
Those charged included several athletic coaches.
Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children’s chances of getting into schools.
“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.
The racketeering conspiracy charges were brought against coaches at schools including Wake Forest, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.
Lelling said it was the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, tennis and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience.
The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid the founder of the Edge College & Career Network approximately $25 million to get their children into college.
Loughlin appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House,” and Huffman starred in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” Both were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.
Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation, so her daughter could partake in the college entrance cheating scam.
Court papers said a co-operating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them. The co-operator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse “agreed to the plan.”
Messages seeking comment with representatives for Huffman and Loughlin were not immediately returned.
Alanna Durkin Richer And Collin Binkley, The Associated Press