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What exactly is the Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin alleged US college admissions scandal?

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Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were arrested this week after the FBI uncovered a multi-million dollar fraudulent scheme set up to get students into elite universities.  

 

According to CNN this is the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted, with 50 people indicted across six US states.

 

Out of the 50 people charged 33 are parents, including several high-profile businesspeople and actors.

 

As two of the more well known names on the list, popular actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman's arrests have shocked fans.

 

Felicity starred in Desperate Housewives, a role which saw her win an Emmy award.

 

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While Lori Loughlin rose to fame as Aunt Becky in 90s sitcom Full House and is known for more recently playing Abigail in When Calls the Heart. However, Hallmark who produce the Netflix series say they have now cut all ties with Loughlin because of the allegations.

The man who ran the scheme is William Rick Singer, on Tuesday (12 March) he pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. 

Racketeering is a charge related to crimes committed through extortion or coercion. 

 

Singer is said to have used a charity as a front for his fraudulent college admissions business scheme.

 

Parents would allegedly pay ‘donations’ to his charity and Singer would provide a range of different services to help get their kids into specific universities.

 

Some of Singer’s alleged services included:


- Photoshopping students faces onto stock images of sports players in order to provide fraudulent evidence for athletic scholarship applications.

- Lying about students having learning disabilities and in some cases paying doctors to support these lies.

- Helping students cheat on their SAT or ACT college entrance exams.

- Bribing exam administrators and/or admissions officers and other university staff.

 

Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli are accused of using the scheme to get their two daughters Bella, 20, and Olivia, 19, into the University of Southern California (USC).

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They allegedly paid to have their daughters listed as USC rowing team recruits, despite the fact neither of the girls are rowers.

 

If the allegations are true, Olivia and Bella would have had an unfair advantage paid for by their parents, as entrance requirements are usually lower for prospective college athletes. It’s now being reported that USC may expel the girls.

 

The university has already fired their senior associate athletic director, Donna Heinel, who has been charged with rackteering.

 

Heinel’s accused of receiving bribe payments totalling $1.3 million between 2014 to 2018. These bribes were apparently given to her so she would embellish or totally fabricate prospective students athletic capabilities, thus bolstering their university applications.  

She was apparently succesful in getting 24 non-athletes into USC on atheletic scholarships. 

 

In 2016, Heinel was allegedly given $50,000 in exchange for getting Bella accepted onto the women’s rowing team. The athletic director did the same again in 2017 for younger daughter Olivia and was paid the same amount as before, court documents suggest.

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Both daughters even posed for photos on rowing machines as part of the scam. However, neither of the girls are being arrested or charged and it is not known what awareness, if any, they had into the scam.

 

A total of $500,000, disguised as charitable donations, were given to Singer who then created admissions profiles for the girls using fake information. He also arranged the payments to Heinel.

 

Fellow actress Felicity Huffman, who has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame,  is also indicted in the FBI’s investigation. She’s accused of paying $15,000 to get Singer’s help in facilitating cheating on her daughter Sofia’s college admissions test.

Photo by pexels.com 

It is not known how many students were aware of the cheating organised by Singer, because in some cases he would arrange for their exam paper answers to be altered after the test had been sat. So most students would be oblivious to what was going on behind the scenes.



Sofia apparently took her test at an examination centre controlled by Singer which meant he could have someone intercept and alter her answers. Her SAT score was increased by 400 points.



In other cases Singer hired an intelligent Harvard University graduate to fraudulently sit admission tests by pretending to be his client’s children.  Singer even bribed exam administrators so they would turn a blind eye and not question the inpersonation.



The universities caught up in the scandal, which include Yale and Stanford, have said they were not aware of Singer's scam with all suspending any staff members who have been implicated and launching internal investigations.



A spokesman for Yale said the university is a "victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women's soccer coach," CNN reports.

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