The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and the FBI announced at a press conference Tuesday that 33 individuals are charged by complaint with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for allegedly participating in the “largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.” Two names that immediately grabbed headlines were Desperate Housewives Felicity Huffman and Full House actress Lori Loughlin.
Those charged by complaint were named as follows: Gregory Abbott, Marcia Abbott, Gamal Abedelaziz, Diane Blake, Todd Blake, Jane Buckingham, Gordon Caplan, Michael Center, I-Hsin “Joey” Chen, Amy Colburn, Gregory Colburn, Robert Flaxman, Mossimo Giannulli, Elizabeth Henriquez, Manuel Henriquez, Douglas Hodge, Felicity Huffman, Agustin Hunees, Bruce Isackson, Davina Isackson, Michelle Janavs, Elisabeth Kimmel, Marjorie Klapper, Lori Loughlin, Toby McFarlane, William McGlashan, Marci Palatella, Peter Jan Sartorio, Stephen Semprevivo, Devin Sloane, John Wilson, Homayoun Zadeh, Robert Zangrillo.
Because we can, we’re going to walk through the craziest allegations against most of these individuals. But first, here’s what FBI agent Laura Smith said about who they are and what they allegedly did.
“Beginning in or about 2011, and continuing through the present, the defendants — principally individuals whose high-school aged children were applying to college — conspired with others to use bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children’s admission to colleges and universities in the District of Massachusetts and elsewhere, including Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California, and the University of California-Los Angeles, among others,” Smith said.
At the center of the alleged scheme is William Rick Singer (CW-1) and his charity organization “The Key Worldwide Foundation.” Singer allegedly amassed $25 million in bribes from privileged parents from 2011-2018. Here’s how Agent Smith said these funds were used:
Bribing college entrance exam administrators to allow a third party to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams, in some cases by posing as the actual students, and in others by providing students with answers during the exams or by correcting their answers after they had completed the exams; Bribing university 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 thereby facilitating their admission to universities in place of more qualified applicants; Having a third party take classes in place of the actual students, with the understanding that grades earned in those classes would be submitted as part of the students’ college applications; Submitting falsified applications for admission to universities in the District of Massachusetts and elsewhere that, among other things, included the fraudulently obtained exam scores and class grades, and often listed fake awards and athletic activities; Disguising the nature and source of the bribe payments by funneling the money through the accounts of a purported charity, from which many of the bribes were then paid.
These are the generalities, now let’s get to the particulars.
Marcia and Gregory Abbott
This New York and Aspen-based couple allegedly wanted their daughter to get into Duke University and had little faith that she could achieve the scores she desired on her own, so they forked over $50,000. Gregory is the founder and chairman of a food and beverage packaging company.
Marcia was allegedly recorded in a couple of areas saying that her daughter was going to throw up due to the pressure, so this failsafe was great:
“Alright, she loves the guy [CW-2] who took the SATs, she said. She said she started having heart palpitations but she said he was so sweet, he let me walk around the hallway. She said, ‘Can’t I take my SAT subjects with him?’ And I said, ‘Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, I think, you know, you just, it’s whole different area and that was ’cause we happened to be out in California seeing schools. So you know we’re gonna take them here.”’So, alright, so there’s no way for [August] 27th. Then I guess we should take them here down [in the Aspen area] on the 27th and let’s see how she does.”
“If so, yes, October 6th. So I guess they give a mix alright. Well, let’s see how she does, She’s convinced that she bombed the lit because she was too tired, so … And [Duke University] told us they didn’t want anything below a 750.”
After hearing ACT score was “not exceptional”: “Oh yeah, my gosh, I mean, I’m sure her, you kidding me? She was gonna throw up like every single drug in the world for mono and lyme [disease]. I’m sure it was a disaster.
Gregory wanted to know how his daughter scored without help:
“Do you know how she did on her own?”
Cooperating witness-1 (CW): “Yeah, I do. She scored in the mid-600s.”
Their daughter “received a score of 800 out of a possible 800 on the math subject test and 710 on the literature subject test,” the complaint said.
This Nevada exec dad allegedly put together quite a fake athletic resume for his daughter so she could get into USC, even though her grades weren’t going to cut it.
On or about July 16, 2017, in an e-mail bearing the subject line, “For Me to complete USC athletic profile,” CW-1 asked ABDELAZIZ to send biographical information about his daughter. The e-mail indicated that the profile would include falsified honors, including “Beijing Junior National Team.” In a subsequent e-mail sent on or about July 27, 2017, CW-1 requested that ABDELAZIZ provide an action photo of his daughter to be used in the profile. ABDELAZIZ replied, “Got it,” and provided the biographical information and photo that same day.
On or about August 7, 2017, Janke sent CW-1 a draft of the profile, which falsely described ABDELAZIZ’s daughter as having received numerous athletic honors, including “Asia Pacific Activities Conference All Star Team,” “2016 China Cup Champions,” “Hong Kong Academy team MVP,” and “Team Captain.” In the cover e-mail, [Laura] Janke wrote, “Let me know if you want me to add any other awards to her profile or if you think that is enough. ”CW-1 forward Janke’s e-mail and the false profile to ABDELAZIZ and wrote, “Gamal please answer below[.]”
Abedelaziz allegedly paid $300,000 to make this happen. Amusingly, a cooperating witness and Abdelaziz were virtually high-fiving over the phone about how great this fake profile was:
CW-1: I’ll tell you a funny story, is that Donna Heinel, who is the senior women’s administrator, she actually called me and said — she called me and says, “Hey [CW-1], that profile that you did for [ADBELAZIZ’s daughter], I loved it. It was really well done and going forward, anybody who isn’t a real basketball player that’s a female, I want you to use that profile going forward.”
Abdelaziz: I love it.
Diane and Todd Blake
This married California power couple allegedly lied about their daughter being a legitimate volleyball recruit so she could get into USC. They allegedly paid $200,000 to get her daughter in.
During a phone call with cooperating witness-1, Todd Blake said he was approached after “donating” to USC Women’s Basketball to donate some more, given the dollar amount given in his name. Todd said he was “evasive” and claimed he made the donation to promote “equity”:
And what I’ve told them essentially is I’ve been — I’ve been very, like, evasive, haven’t told them anything. I said that basically in– in the first situation I said that, you know, I felt for equity reasons it was– it would be great to give money to a nonrevenue sport, that football, basketball, on the men’s side get a — they get a ton of money. And it’d be nice to donate money to a program that was, you know, not as– funded as strongly. And then when the athletics department guy, guy named Brent, really nice guy, followed up by e-mail, he basically, you know, said, “You know, I’ve noticed you give money to women’s basketball, we’d love to get you down for a game, and so forth.” And I said, “Well, it’s probably just going to be a one-time donation. If I donate it’ll be probably to Annenberg resident athletics fund.”
Later, Todd allegedly asked how should lie if the IRS gave him a call, according to the complaint.
“And will I get contacted, and if so how would you like me to answer?” he asked. Diane was told over the phone by CW-1 that law enforcement subpoenaed USC. She seemed worried.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Hmm. So, wow. Okay. Okay, gotcha. Like, should I be concerned?”
The California-based boutique marketing firm CEO allegedly paid $50,000 to get her son a good enough score to get into the likes of USC, and later expressed an interest in doing the same for her daughter.
The following bizarre exchange was recorded via wiretap:
CW-1: Okay, so your donation is gonna be 50. It’ll it’ll end up being through our foundation.
CW-1: And I’m already sending a check to the proctor today, and to Niki today,’ cause she said, “I gotta have the money first.”
CW-1: I said, “Niki, I have been doing this forever.” She said, “I get it, but this like, this is crazy.”
BUCKINGHAM: Yeah. I know this is craziness, I know it is. And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.
CW-1: I can do that, I can do that if you can figure out a way to boot your husband out so that he treats you well– you’re treated better–
BUCKINGHAM: That’s impossible. That’ s impossible. But, you know, peace in the Middle East. You know, Harvard, the rest of it. I have faith in you.
After this, Buckingham said “good luck” fixing her son’s handwriting and enclosed an image of this penmanship:
As Law&Crime noted elsewhere, Caplan is a big-time attorney and currently the co-chairman of major global law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP. According to court documents, Caplan paid $75,000.
Caplan allegedly paid the money as part of an agreement that would have his daughter declared as having a learning “discrepancy” in order for her to get extended time to take the exam, which she would also be permitted to take at this unnamed person’s school, with a proctor ensuring that she got the desired score.
Caplan — it’s worth emphasizing again, a star attorney — was apparently recorded speaking with CW-1 over the phone and laughing about this “homerun” that wasn’t.
CW-1: It’s the homerun of homeruns.
CAPLAN: And it works?
CW-1: Every time. (laughing)
On a later date, when Kaplan’s wife expressed concern about this over the phone, Caplan allegedly got on the phone and laughed some more.
CAPLAN: Is, let me put it differently, if somebody catches this, what happens?
CW-1: The only one who can catch it is if you guys tell somebody.
CAPLAN: I am not going to tell anybody.
CW-1: Well (laughing)
I-Hsin “Joey” Chen
Chen allegedly paid $75,000 to get his son the desired test scores. Once again, CW-1 called someone up to say the IRS was auditing “The Key.” This riveting conversation ensued:
CW-1: And so they’re looking at all the payments that have gone into our foundation.
CW-1 So they asked about your payment, which was for [your son], you know, taking the test that we did for him at [the West Hollywood Test Center], with [CW-2]
CW-1: And I’ve said that your payment of $75,000
CW-1: –went to our foundation to help underserved kids.
Chen then asked what he should say to the IRS and was told to say “consulting services for the foundation.”
Amy and Greg Colburn
Another California married couple allegedly shelled out $25,000 to the fake charity. One day they got a call from CW-1 saying that the IRS was auditing the charity. The couple was worried, but CW-1 assured them they just needed to get their stories straight. What was that story? That the donation was made to help “underserved kids.”
CW-1: Okay. All right. So that’s really what I wanted to make sure, was that
we’re both on the same page.
G. COLBURN: Good.
CW-1: Excuse me. And just in case they were to call you, I just wanted to–because I’ve already told them that, you know, this– essentially, this payment was made to our foundation in lieu of, but we both know that, [CW-2] took the test for [your son]. But I just wanted to make sure that we don’t — we’re all on the same page.
G. COLBURN: Right. It was to help underserved kids.
G. COLBURN: Got it. No problem.
A CEO at a real-estate firm in LA, Flaxman allegedly paid out more than $300,000 to ensure his son and daughter got superb test scores.
To get his son into the University of San Diego, Flaxman allegedly worked with CW-1 on an application that appears to have included false claims of volunteer work:
On or about November 16, 2015, CW-1 e-mailed FLAXMAN and his son. The subject line of the e-mail was: “Here is what I came up with that touches on a lot of who you are and what I put on your application.” The essay, and the application ultimately submitted to USD, referenced FLAXMAN’s son’s purported volunteer work as the manager of an elite youth athletic team. Prior essay drafts contained no references to that sport.
Mossimo Giannulli and Lori Loughlin
We turn now to, perhaps, the most famous couple of them all on this list of charged individuals. The former Full House star and fashion designer husband allegedly created fake rowing profiles to get their daughters Isabella and Olivia in USC.
The couple allegedly “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the [University of Southern California (USC)] crew team–despite the fact that they did not participate in crew–thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”
In each case, they allegedly took photos of their daughters on rowing machines to make it appear as if they were, in fact, rowers, and submitted this images as part of fake athletic profiles.
Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez
Manuel, the “founder, chairman, and CEO of a publicly traded specialty finance company based in Palo Alto,” and Elizabeth Henriquez are accused of conspiring to bribe Gordon Ernst, the “head tennis coach at Georgetown University” so that their older daughter would be designated as “a tennis recruit in order to facilitate her admission to Georgetown University.”
They couple allegedly paid out at least $400,000 to “The Key.” The documents allege that Elizabeth had her daughter draft an application essay. Days after they sent it, they got a response saying the essay needed to “talk about tennis”:
On or about August 24, 2015, CW-1 circulated to ELIZABETH HENRIQUEZ and her daughter a draft application essay. The essay included no mention of tennis. Two days later, CW-1 e-mailed ELIZABETH HENRIQUEZ and her daughter again, advising that he was going to change the essay to “talk about tennis.” The final essay submitted to Georgetown falsely stated: “[B]eing a part of Georgetown women’s tennis team has always been a dream of mine. For years I have spent three four hours a day grinding out on and off court workouts with the hopes of becoming successful enough to play college tennis especially at Georgetown. What is most amazing is how quickly I connected with Coach Ernst. He spent time with me while on campus and at several tournaments I played in.”
Eventually, CW-1 trotted out the IRS audit line and talked with Elizabeth on the phone about getting stories straight. Once again, they concocted the story that the “donations” were about “underserved kids.”
E. HENRIQUEZ: So what’s your story?
CW-1: So my story is, essentially, that you gave your money to our foundation to help underserved kids.
E. HENRIQUEZ: You– Of course.
E. HENRIQUEZ: Those kids have to go to school.
This California-based investment management company CEO allegedly paid upwards of half a million dollars in bribes to get his kids into USC, under the guise that they were athletes.
Humorously, CW-1, when discussing a purported IRS audit, laid out what happened:
CW-1: So there’s — there’s 25, 30, 35 kids total. I don’t know who they’re going to call and who they’re not but I — you know, what I’ve told them is, you know, there was $200,000 for [your daughter], 250[,000] for [your son], that they both got in, and that we both know they both got in through athletics. [Your daughter] got in even though she wasn’t a — a legit soccer player and [your son] not a legit– I think we did football for [him].
CW-1: But we didn’t go in there. We didn’t even discuss that. What I said to them is that your monies essentially went to our foundation to help fund underserved kids and that ’s how we left it. But I think that they’ re going to call some of the USC families that we’ve gone [inaudible] the years. So I just wanted you to have a heads-up.
This exchange, in summary: We know this isn’t legit because x, y, and z, but we’re not going to talk about that.
Hodge obviously did not know this call was being recorded.
The Desperate Housewives actress allegedly paid thousands so that her older daughter would get high test scores. The complaint said that she explored doing the same thing for her other daughter, but ultimately decided against this.
After securing “100 percent extra time” for her older daughter, Sofia Grace Macy, Huffman apparently grew concerned that her daughter’s high school would be proctoring the exam instead–and therefore apparently frustrating the alleged answer-doctoring scheme.
Perhaps the most amusing thing here was Huffman’s (unwitting?) quoting of Scooby Doo:
HUFFMAN forwarded the e-mail to CW-1 with the note, “Ruh Ro! Looks like [my daughter’s high school] wants to provide own proctor.” CW
-1 responded, “We will speak about it.”
This little hiccup was quickly smoothed over.
“In subsequent e-mails, Singer and Huffman agreed to tell the high school counselor that Huffman’s daughter would take the SAT at a different location on December 2nd and 3rd [in 2017]—a Saturday and Sunday—so that she would not miss any school,” the filing notes.
An employee of Singer’s then “purported to proctor [Sofia Grace Macy’s] SAT exam at the West Hollywood Test Center” in December 2017. According to interviews with investigators, this employee said “that each time he was in Los Angeles to proctor an SAT or ACT, he facilitated cheating, either by correcting the student’s answers after the test or by actively assisting the student during the exam.”
Agustin Hunees Jr.
The California vineyard owner allegedly paid bribes to get USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic to “facilitate his daughter’s admission to USC as a purported water polo recruit.”
He didn’t seem to know how this whole fake “water polo [profile] thing” worked.
HUNEEUS: I just wanted you to walk me through the whole, kinda, water polo thing again and how it works. You and I did, you know, like the economics, the timing, how all that works. You and I had a brief conversation about it, but I wanted to kinda get it straight, if you don’t mind?
CW-1: Okay, okay. So, I’m putting together, I need to put together [your daughter’s] sports profile. It will be a water polo profile, now.
HUNEEUS: Yup, yup.
CW-1: I take her transcript, test scores, and profile to th– to the senior women’s athletic director, who actually is the liaison for all sports at USC, football, everybody has to go through her.
Bruce and Davina Isackson
Bruce, the president of a real estate firm in California, and his wife Davina allegedly paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars so their daughter could falsely be portrayed as a soccer player so she could get into USC. When that hit a snag — “On or about February 17, 2016, an assistant athletic director at USC e-mailed the women’s soccer coach that the application had been diverted to the regular admissions process due to a ‘clerical error’”– they apparently found a way to get her into UCLA.
Here’s what allegedly happened next:
On or about May 20, 2016, Ali Khosroshahin, the former head coach of women’s soccer at USC, forwarded the falsified soccer profile, ACT score and transcripts on CW-1’s behalf to Jorge Salcedo, the head coach of UCLA men’s soccer. Khosroshahin wrote: “soccer player/student manager. I have attached her profile, player explanation, transcripts for both high schools and ACT scores…will make sure she has registered with the NCAA.
Please let me know if you need any additional information[.]”
The Isacksons were apparently thankful for the “rough ride” they had just experienced:
On or about June 28, 2016, the UCLA student-athlete admissions committee approved the ISACKSONS’ daughter for provisional admission that fall. CW-1 notified the ISACKSONS via e-mail the following day. DAVINA ISACKSON responded, copying BRUCE ISACKSON and their daughter: “I know it has been a rough ride but I thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for your persistence, creativity and commitment towards helping [our daughter].”
The California-based former exec at a food manufacturer allegedly paid thousands to get one her daughters into school by faking a volleyball profile. A phone conversation with CW-1 indicated that she was also upset that her younger daughter wanted to do extremely well on the ACT — so well that she would keep taking the test until she got the desired score of 34.
Janavs said on the phone that this was driving her “fucking nuts”:
JANAVS: So I have a question for you. I’m trying to figure out how best to deal with [my younger daughter] on this. So [my daughter] has said to me, “I’m gonna get a 34 on this ACT,” or “I’m gonna keep taking it till I get a 34.” And I’m like, “[Daughter], what if you got like a 32 or a 33?” She’s like, “W– no. I would take it till I get a 34.” I don’t know if that’s true, but she’s fucking driving me nuts. But what I do
n’t want to happen is us to say — she gets a 33 and her go, “I’m gonna take it again.”
CW-1: I gotcha. Oh, I totally get that.
Kimmel, a media company president and resident of both Nevada and California, allegedly paid upwards of $450,000 in bribes to get her non-tennis player daughter into Georgetown as a tennis recruit and to get her non-track-standout son into USC as a track recruit.
Most comically, an image of a pole vaulting individual who was not Kimmel’s son was included in a fake athletic profile:
On or about August 10, 2017, CW-1 directed Janke to create an athletic profile for KIMMEL’s son. Janke inquired, via e-mail, what sport the profile should be for and whether there are “pictures or do I need to find one.” CW-1 responded: “pole vaulter” and asked her to find “pole vaulter pics.”
Janke prepared an athletic profile falsely describing KIMMEL’s son as an elite high school pole vaulter and including the following photograph purporting to be of KIMMEL’s son, but which, in fact, depicts another individual.
That photo was even included in the complaint:
“The application ultimately submitted to USC falsely described KIMMEL’s son as a ‘3 year Varsity Letterman’ in track and field and ‘one of the top pole vaulters in the state of California,'” the complaint said.
It’s pretty clear that her son knew nothing about this, but her unnamed spouse appeared to:
SPOUSE: So [my son] and I just got back from [U]SC Orientation. It went great. The only kind of glitch was, and I– he didn’t — [my son] didn’t tell me this at the time– but yesterday when he went to meet with his advisor, he stayed after a little bit, and the– apparently the advisor said something to the effect of, “Oh, so you’re a track athlete?” And [my son] said, “No.” ’Cause, so [my son] has no idea, and that’s what– the way we want to keep it.
Watch can watch the press conference below:
You can also read the 200-page complaint for yourself.
Nationwide College Cheating… by on Scribd
Colin Kalmbacher and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.
[Image via YouTube screengrab]