Rick Singer led the 50 individuals that were part of a conspiracy to get children of wealthy adults into elite universities.
On March 12, U.S. federal prosecutors charged Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and 50 other people in a scheme for wealthy Americans to buy their children’s attendance at elite universities. This investigation, entitled Operation Varsity Blues, involved approximately 200 FBI agents, millions of dollars and universities like USC, Yale, Wake Forest, Stanford and Georgetown.
The scheme, headed by Rick Singer, started in 2011. Under the guise of a college preparatory business called Edge College and Career Network LLC (nicknamed “the Key”) and a non-profit charity Key Worldwide Foundation, Singer conspired with parents, athletics coaches and SAT/ACT test administrators to get children into universities without merit. This was referred to as using the “side door.”
Singer’s scheme had several aspects to it. The first was test score fabrication. For a typical donation of between $15,000 and $75,000, parents could get a higher SAT or ACT score for their child. Singer was able to accomplish this by having the children ask for extended time, then have the test transferred to one of two locations that Singer controlled. Administrators bribed by Singer allowed Mark Riddell, one of Singer’s partners, the ability to take the exam for students or provide the students with answers.
The second aspect of Singer’s operation was athletic recruiting deception. Parents could pay money to bribe Singer to get their children designated as athletic recruits. Singer bribed various university administrators and coaches to allow these students this designation even if they lacked the skill to compete at the college level. Some had never even played the sports before. Bribed administrators include USC’s Senior Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic, along with former Yale soccer coach Rudolph Meredith.
Finally, Singer used his charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, to commit wire fraud. Instead of directly paying the Key for Singer’s services, parents would pay the charitable foundation, allowing them to write off payments in the millions as charitable donations to Key Worldwide Foundation, which claimed to help organizations like Friends of Cambodia and the LadyLike Foundation. Instead, the majority of the money went to paying the athletics departments that were receiving fake recruits.
After the release of these charges, Singer pled guilty that same day. However, it was not as simple as that for all the parties involved. On March 28, Rudolph Meredith pleaded guilty on all counts. On April 9, 16 of the 33 parents charged in the case who had pleaded not guilty to original charges were also charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. On April 11, a motion was filed to have the case of all 33 parents that pled guilty moved from a judge that had a reputation of harsh sentencing to another random judge, but this was rejected, and the current judge will be able to determine how the case will proceed from there. It is not clear if the students currently enrolled as part of this scandal will lose their enrollment.