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The shocking details: Excerpts from the college admissions criminal complaint

Authorities charged more than 50 people, like actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, March 12 with being part of a long-running college admittance scam. (Video: Allie Caren, Justin Scuiletti/The Washington Post)

Following are excerpts from the explosive 204-page criminal complaint charging more than 30 wealthy people — including Hollywood actors and college coaches — in a years-long scheme to bribe and cheat to get their children into exclusive colleges and universities.

The Washington Post story on the complaint says:

The alleged crimes included cheating on entrance exams, as well as bribing college officials to say certain students were coming to compete on athletic teams when those students were not in fact athletes.
The criminal complaint paints an ugly picture of high-powered individuals committing crimes to get their children into selective schools. Among those charged are actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for her role on the television show “Desperate Housewives,” and Lori Loughlin, who appeared on “Full House,” according to court documents.

FBI accuses wealthy parents, including celebrities, in college-entrance bribery scheme

According to the criminal complaint, the schools targeted included Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University and Yale University.

The complaint says that many of the children involved did not know what their parents had done to get them into school.

Here are some excerpts:

On the alleged crimes and scope of the evidence, as described by Laura Smith, an FBI special agent on a squad that investigates economic crimes, including corporate fraud, securities fraud and bribery.

Specifically, as set forth below, I have probable cause to believe that the defendants conspired with others known and unknown: (1) to bribe college entrance exam administrators to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams; (2) to bribe varsity coaches and administrators at elite universities to designate certain applicants as recruited athletes or as other favored candidates, thereby facilitating the applicants’ admission to those universities; and (3) to use the facade of a charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribe payments.
The facts set forth in this affidavit come from my personal involvement with this investigation, interviews with witnesses, including the cooperating witnesses . . . and my review of documents -- including bank records, flight records, e-mails, telephone toll records, cell site data and other materials obtained through grand jury subpoenas and search warrants -- as well as Court-authorized Title III wiretap recordings, consensual recordings made by a cooperating witness, and information provided by other law enforcement agents.

An overview of the conspiracy

6. 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. Evidence I have reviewed shows that the scheme included the following:
a) 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;
b) 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;
c) 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;
d) 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; and
e) Disguising the nature and source of the bribe payments by funneling the money through the accounts of a purposed charity, from which many of the bribes were then paid.

This excerpt involves “CW-1,” described as a cooperating witness who founded and operated, with others, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business known as The Key, or formally The Edge College & Career Network LLC. CW-1 has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. There are other cooperating witnesses as well mentioned in the complaint.

According to the complaint, CW-1′s clients paid CW-1 between $15,000 and $75,000 per standardized test to participate in the cheating scheme, with payments usually structured as “purported donations” to a charity this person set up, called The Key Worldwide Foundation, or KWF. The “Caplan” referred to in the excerpt below is defendant Gordon Caplan, an attorney and co-chairman of an international law firm.

Between approximately 2011 and 2018, parents paid CW-1 approximately $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to designate their children as purported recruited athletes, or as members of other favored admissions categories, thereby facilitating the children’s admission to those universities. . . .
CW-1 typically explained to his clients, in substance, that the scheme was a tried-and-true method of gaining admission to colleges, and that many other families were participating or had already participated in it, leveraging connections CW-1 had developed at multiple universities over years of work with prior clients. For example, set forth below is how CW-1 described the scheme to CAPLAN in the June 15, 2018 calls, during which CW-1 represented to CAPLAN that he had successfully engaged in the same scheme with nearly 800 other families:

To understand how the process actually worked, here is the entire section on actress Felicity Huffman’s involvement:


And here’s the entire section in the indictment on Lori Loughlin:

(Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to the federal criminal complaint as an indictment.)