Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 50 people charged Tuesday in a scheme allegedly led by a Sacramento man in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.
"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.
Lelling called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department. Lelling named William Singer, who was listed as a Sacramento and Newport Beach resident, the lead figure in the conspiracy. Singer is expected to plead guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, and conspiracy to defraud the government.
Prosecutors said parents paid Singer 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.
Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.
"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.
The bribes allegedly came through an Singer's consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid Singer approximately $25 million to get their children into college.
Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.
No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the students were not aware of the fraud.
The coaches worked at such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. 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. That, in turn, boosted the students' chances of admission.
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 that her daughter could take part in the college entrance cheating scam.
Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them. The cooperator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse "agreed to the plan."
A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment. Messages seeking comment from Huffman's representatives were not immediately returned.
Arrests in Sacramento
Two Folsom residents were named in the massive college admission scam led by Singer. Steven Masera, 69, and Mikaela Sanford, 32, are facing charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
According to charging documents, Masera worked as an accountant and financial officer for the company Edge College & Career Network as well as The Key Worldwide Foundation. The documents also show Sanford was employed in various capacities by the company The Key. Both companies were run by Singer.
Both defendants were at the Robert T. Matsui Federal Courthouse, Tuesday afternoon. Masera had private council while Sanford was issued a court-appointed attorney. Neither one of them has a criminal history and the judge granted bail for both defendants. Masera was release on a $100,000 bond while Sandford was release on a $50,000 bond. The judge set some conditions of release for both which include travel restrictions.
Masera will have to surrender a weapon he admitted to having at home and his passport. Masera’s family, including his wife and two adult children, were in the courtroom.
ABC10 approached the family for comment, but they politely denied. Both defendants will have to be back in court on March 25 in Boston, Massachusetts.
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