How Hollywood elites cheated to get their kids into college

In the fall of 2017, William Rick Singer, college admission fraudster for the rich and famous, sat in the Los Angeles home of actors William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman and laid out a plan to scam their oldest daughter into college, according to a federal indictment released Tuesday.

It was what Singer often told parents was “the side door” to college and he did not lack for what federal prosecutors called “a catalog of wealth and privilege” willing to pay for entrance. That includes actresses Huffman ("Desperate Housewives") and Lori Loughlin ("Full House"), each of whom was indicted by the U.S. Attorney in Boston Tuesday on conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.

Below is a detailed account, culled from the indictments, on what Huffman, Loughlin and Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, the case’s most prominent names, are charged with doing in what the feds call a widespread scam that allowed the wealthy to cheat the less fortunate out of elite college admission slots.

Singer owned a company, disguised as a charity, called “The Edge College and Career Network”, dubbed “The Key.” As he explained to Macy and Huffman, The Key was not legit. Singer is expected to plead guilty to racketeering and other charges Tuesday and was a cooperating witness in the case.

As Singer told Huffman and Macy, he “controlled” an SAT test center in West Hollywood, California.

Singer had an arrangement where he “bribed the test administrators to allow a third party to take the exams in place of the actual students, to serve as a purported proctor for the exams while providing students with the correct answers, or to review and correct the students’ answers after they completed the exams.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 31:  Lori Loughlin is seen on December 31, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by SMXRF/Star Max/GC Images)
Lori Loughlin is seen on December 31, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Getty Images)

Singer would pay test administrators $10,000 per student to allow this to happen. He would charge parents between $15,000 and $75,000. Often, the students taking the exam didn’t even know what was going on or that their parents had arranged the alleged fraud. When a nice score came back, they assumed they achieved it honestly.

Singer had a man from Florida who was a standardized testing master. According to the FBI, he could essentially score whatever number was requested, from a perfect 1600 on down.

Huffman and Macy’s daughter had scored only about 1000 on the PSAT, which didn’t bode well for her getting into an elite university.

First, Huffman needed to have their daughter follow the blueprint of gaining “medical documentation” that she suffered from a learning disability that would grant her “extended time” to take the test, even over the course of two days. Once that was done, they could request she take the test at the West Hollywood Test Center that Singer “controlled.”

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Huffman got that done around Oct. 16, 2017, but a counsellor at her daughter’s high school said they would proctor the test “on Dec. 4th and 5th and that’s the process in a nutshell.” The plan seemed to be failing.

“Ruh Ro!” Huffman emailed Singer. “Looks like [my daughter’s high school] wants to proctor.”

Singer told Huffman to tell the counsellor that her daughter would take the test on Dec. 2 and 3 in West Hollywood because those were weekend dates and thus she wouldn’t miss any school. The counsellor agreed. Problem averted.

The test was taken. And fixed. As were the tests of three other students. Huffman’s daughter received a vastly improved 1420. In February of 2018, Huffman and Macy cut a $15,000 check to Singer’s charity. In March they received a letter calling it a charitable donation.

By November 2018, Huffman was again talking to Singer, this time about fixing a test for her younger daughter and about how she would need a score in the “mid-14s to 1500” to get into the desired category of school, such as Georgetown.

In the end, Huffman didn’t go through with it the second time. While Huffman was charged, Macy was not. Their oldest daughter is still a high school senior in Los Angeles.

As for Loughlin and Giannulli, in the spring of 2016 they were concerned that their older daughter’s “academic qualifications” were not good enough for her first choice, the University of Southern California.

Giannulli emailed Singer to “make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than [Arizona State]!”

Singer had a plan: They would make the daughter a coxswain in the sport of crew and thus she would be recruited by USC. Each coach at the school has a certain number of slots where they can get recruits admitted who normally wouldn’t qualify.

The problem? The daughter didn’t even participate in crew, let alone at the level to be recruited by a school such as USC. Singer had a solution, though.

On Sept. 7, 2016, Giannulli emailed Singer with a picture of the daughter on an ergometer, the kind of rowing machines found in health clubs. Singer used the picture as part of a scam to present her as a recruitable athlete.

Singer was working with a woman named Donna Heinel, who was a senior associate athletic director at USC and who could deem a recruit worthy of an admission slot. On Oct. 27, 2016, Heinel presented Giannulli’s daughter as a recruit and she was approved for conditional admission to USC. She would be deemed a walk-on and thus not eligible for an athletic scholarship, which the wealthy family didn’t need anyway.

***FILE PHOTO*** Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin Indicted in College Admission Bribery Case. LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: (L-R) Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy arrive at the 68th Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, September 18, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. Credit: mpi99/MediaPunch /IPX
Felicity Huffman and husband William H. Macy are allegedly part of a widespread college entrance scandal. Huffman has been indicted; Macy was not. (Getty Images)

Within days, Giannulli sent Heinel $50,000. In November, Singer sent Giannulli confirmation that his daughter had been provisionally admitted to USC based on “records [that] indicate you have the potential to make a significant contribution to the intercollegiate athletic program.”

In March, a formal acceptance letter arrived and Giannulli sent Singer’s charity $200,000.

With that accomplished, Singer asked Giannulli and Loughlin about their younger daughter and whether they needed a similar deal “anywhere so we don’t lose a spot.”

“Yes USC for [younger daughter]!” Loughlin replied.

In July of 2017, a plan began to “present” the daughter as “a coxswain for the L.A. Marina Club team, and requested … an ‘Action Picture.’ Once again, a picture of one of their daughters on a rowing machine was sent.

No matter. In November, Heinel presented the girl, who didn’t participate in crew, as a recruit and gained conditional admission. Giannulli eventually cut checks for $50,000 to Heinel and $200,000 to Singer’s charity.

The total was now half a million for two spots at USC.

All was good until a guidance counsellor at the daughters’ high school heard about the sisters being crew recruits and “did not believe that either of Giannulli’s daughters participated in crew, and was concerned that their applications may have contained misleading information.”

That was eventually smoothed out though. The admission to the university stood. Loughlin, Giannulli and Heinel were all indicted Tuesday.

Just two more wealthy parents and one bribe-taking cog in the machine that cheated deserving students and student-athletes around the country out of coveted admission slots.

“This case is about the widening corruption of admission of elite college and universities,” U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said. “There can be no separate admission system for the wealthy and I will add there will not be a separate justice system.”

Not even in Hollywood.

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