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The people charged in college admissions scandal Operation Varsity Blues

William Singer pleaded guilty on March 12 to running a $25 million scheme to fraudulently help wealthy parents get their children into elite universities. (Video: Reuters)
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It is a narrative ripped from a Hollywood script, and, fittingly, it includes actors.

The 50 people charged Tuesday in a far-reaching college admissions conspiracy include the man who coached members of former president Barack Obama’s family in tennis; an investor who founded a social impact fund with Bono; a bourbon distillery owner who is married to a former football player; and a former Harvard tennis player.

The wealthy parents charged in the conspiracy to get their children into elite schools were more than just the 1 percent. They had connections at the highest levels, and when the ordinary benefits of extreme wealth failed to shape their children into elite college material, prosecutors said, they turned to William “Rick” Singer, the man authorities say presided over a scheme to facilitate cheating on admission tests and bribery of college coaches to help children of wealthy parents get into prestigious universities.

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)

Here are some of the people charged Tuesday.

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

Gordon Ernst

After the University of Rhode Island hired him as head coach of the women’s tennis team in 2018, Ernst was touted on the university’s website as a New England Tennis Hall of Famer with 12 successful years coaching men’s and women’s tennis at Georgetown University.

Authorities said he made $950,000 promoting several students as potential tennis recruits for Georgetown — when they were not tennis players of that caliber.

Linda Acciardo, a spokeswoman for the University of Rhode Island, said in a statement that the school had placed Ernst on administrative leave Tuesday after learning of the charges he is facing. He has not been involved in the recruitment of any current players, she wrote, nor in the signing of recruits.

Ernst did not respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Rollice Ernst, his mother, said her son had enjoyed coaching Michelle and Malia Obama. (A spokeswoman for Michelle Obama did not respond to a message seeking comment.)

Gordon Ernst played hockey and tennis at Brown University, Rollice Ernst said, graduating in 1990 after a semester off in Canada. The family didn’t worry much about his or his brother’s acceptance at Brown because Rollice Ernst’s father was a graduate in 1949 and a big fundraiser and booster for the university, so she hoped their academic and athletic abilities would allow them to attend.

She has been proud of him, she said: “I still am.”

Rollice Ernst was reading about the case Tuesday, she said. “These colleges, they do whatever they want. They have so many slots that they give coaches, a certain number of slots they give coaches so they can recruit . . . . As soon as you put money into the equation, they get upset, apparently.”

When he left Georgetown, his lawyer assured him he did nothing illegal or immoral, Rollice Ernst said. “We’ll see; you never know how these things turn out.”

Marci Palatella

When Palatella contacted Singer asking for help getting her son into the University of Southern California, she first asked whether she could just write a check for a generous donation, according to the criminal complaint. Singer provided her a price list but added it would not be enough: The best way to guarantee the boy’s admission was to bribe a coach so the son could pose as a football recruit. That wouldn’t have been all that far-fetched: Palatella’s husband, Lou Palatella, is a former San Francisco 49er. He is not charged in the case.

Later, Palatella allegedly told Singer that she and her husband “laugh every day” over the scheme to get their son into USC.

Palatella, of Hillsborough, Calif., is the owner of a craft bourbon distillery in Bardstown, Ky., outside Louisville. Palatella could not be reached for comment.

William McGlashan Jr.

McGlashan might have been unknown to the public at large, but the people he worked with — Bono, Laurene Powell Jobs and Netflix founder Reed Hastings — are well known. The Silicon Valley investor worked with the trio and several others to create the Rise Fund, a social impact fund that has invested in educational and personal finance technology. He is also a senior manager at a global private equity firm and serves on the boards of several recognized brands, including e.l.f. cosmetics and Fender, the guitar maker, according to his biography on the website of the nonprofit Endeavor Global, where he is a board member.

According to law enforcement, McGlashan conspired with Singer to get his son into USC by having him apply as a football recruit — even though McGlashan’s son attended a high school without a football team. According to the criminal complaint, Singer told McGlashan that he would portray McGlashan’s son as a kicker — since kickers sometimes get recruited from special camps outside their schools.

McGlashan apparently laughed, according to the criminal complaint, which included a portion of their phone-tapped conversation.

“He does have really strong legs,” McGlashan said.

McGlashan himself is the product of elite schools, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Yale University and his MBA from Stanford. McGlashan could not be reached for comment.

Mark Riddell

When Singer wanted to deliver top test scores for the children of his clients, according to the criminal complaint, he brought in Riddell, who was then in charge of preparing students for college entrance exams at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Singer would arrange for Riddell, a 2004 graduate of Harvard, to take the tests for students with the aspiration but not the scores to gain admission to top schools. Riddell consistently delivered high scores.

IMG Academy is a boarding school founded by a sports marketing firm that prepares elite athletes for top college programs or careers as professional athletes. The academy took Riddell’s biography off its website. Before it was removed, it said the former college tennis player had helped “thousands of students in gaining admissions to top American universities such as Stanford, Duke, Columbia, Dartmouth [and] University of Chicago.”

Neither Riddell nor IMG Academy could be reached for comment.

Lori Loughlin

There’s a reason “Aunt Becky” trended worldwide on Twitter for hours Tuesday — Loughlin’s alleged crimes couldn’t be more opposite from Becky Katsopolis, the wholesome role she played on ABC’s 1990s sitcom “Full House,” as the wife of John Stamos’s Uncle Jesse.

Loughlin went on to have small roles on TV shows through the years, and was a series regular on CW dramas such as “Summerland” and “90210.” She found her niche starring in Hallmark Channel’s “Garage Sale Mystery” movie franchise, for which she was executive producer, and has appeared in the channel’s holiday movies from “Every Christmas Has a Story” to “Northpole: Open for Christmas.” She has been married to designer Mossimo Giannulli, who also was charged, since 1997.

Before Lori Loughlin’s alleged cheating scandal, daughter Olivia Jade made her life at USC a YouTube brand

Felicity Huffman

The Oscar-nominated Huffman’s first breakout role was in Aaron Sorkin’s dramedy “Sports Night” in the late 1990s, in which she played an executive producer on a sports talk show. But she didn’t become a true household name until 2004 with a starring role on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” the network’s massive hit centered on suburban women with many dark secrets. Huffman earned much critical acclaim for her role as Lynette, the former corporate executive turned stay-at-home mom to four kids, and she won the Emmy for lead actress in a comedy in 2005. About that time, her fame spiked further when she was nominated for an Academy Award for “Transamerica,” in which she starred as a transgender woman who discovered she has a long-lost son. She has been married since 1997 to actor William H. Macy, who was listed as “spouse” in the criminal complaint but not charged.

Mossimo Giannulli

Fashion designer Giannulli is best known for his first name, as the Mossimo clothing line is well known to shoppers at Target, where it was one of the store’s most popular exclusive brands for years. (The store announced it was parting ways with the brand in 2017.)Giannulli, a California native, started the company as a beachwear line in 1987. He later expanded into casual wear and accessories, and the company became worth millions.

William "Rick" Singer

Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, Calif., is described by authorities as the chief orchestrator of the alleged scams. Singer agreed to plea guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other counts in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation. He authored a 2014 book called “Getting In: Gaining Admission to Your College of Choice,” and is described on a promotional website as founder of a college counseling business called The Key. Using that business and a related foundation, authorities say, Singer persuaded parents to participate in schemes including cheating on the SAT and ACT and bribing college athletics coaches to designate applicants as recruited athletes so they would have a stronger chance of admission. Singer is identified in a criminal complaint as Cooperating Witness One, or CW-1. “I can guarantee her a score,” CW-1 tells a parent asking about college admission tests. The price: $75,000.

Jane Buckingham

Buckingham, 50, of Beverly Hills, Calif., is the founder and chief executive officer of Trendera, a marketing firm specializing in trend forecasting, brand strategy and generational research, according to the company website. It touts her as “one of the foremost experts on Generations X, Y and Z.”

Buckingham did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Buckingham is also an author, whose books include “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Sticky Situations.”

Federal authorities allege she paid $50,000 to have someone take the ACT on her son’s behalf last year, sending a sample of his handwriting. In an excerpt of a wiretapped phone conversation, according to court documents, she said, “Yeah. I know this is craziness, I know it is. And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.”

John Vandemoer

Vandemoer, 41, of Stanford, Calif., was in his 11th season as Stanford University’s head sailing coach. Along with his many sailing victories, he had previously won an award for “rescuing many dinghy sailors that were caught in the vicious winds of a Chicago cold front,” according to the university’s website.

Court documents include Singer telling a parent, “So I had a conversation with the Stanford sailing coach and, so I just gave the Stanford sailing coach [$]160,000 for his program and while we were having that conversation I said, ‘Hey, I’m hoping that this 160 that I’m helping you with helps secure a spot for next year. Can I be guaranteed a spot for next year?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ”

Vandemoer could not immediately be reached for comment, and his attorney, Robert Fisher, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In a message to the campus, Stanford University’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, and provost, Persis Drell, called the allegations “appalling.” The coach was fired Tuesday morning, and pleaded guilty later that day in federal court to a racketeering count, the school officials noted.

Investigators identified two prospective students who were potentially involved in the case, but neither wound up enrolling at Stanford, according to the school; one was denied admission, and another did not complete the application.

The university has no information from the Justice Department investigation that the conduct involves anyone else at the school but said it will conduct an internal review to confirm that, according to a university statement.

School officials also wrote that they will ensure Stanford does not benefit from the money given to the sailing program as part of the scheme, and are working with the government to redirect the money to an entity unaffiliated with the school.

Others charged, according to federal authorities, who in a news release described the careers of those named:

●Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, 51, of Madison, Conn., former head women’s soccer coach at Yale University.

●David Sidoo, 59, of Vancouver, Canada.

●Igor Dvorskiy, 52, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., a test administrator for the College Board and ACT, and director of a private elementary and high school in Los Angeles.

●William Ferguson, 48, of Winston-Salem, N.C., former women’s volleyball coach at Wake Forest University

●Martin Fox, 62, of Houston, Tex., president of a private tennis academy in Houston.

●Donna Heinel, 57, of Long Beach, Calif., former senior associate athletic director at USC.

●Laura Janke, 36, of North Hollywood, Calif., former assistant coach of women’s soccer at USC.

●Ali Khosroshahin, 49, of Fountain Valley, Calif., former head coach of women’s soccer at USC.

●Steven Masera, 69, of Folsom, Calif., accountant and financial officer for the Edge College & Career Network and Key Worldwide Foundation

●Jorge Salcedo, 46, of Los Angeles, former head coach of men’s soccer at the University of California at Los Angeles.

●Mikaela Sanford, 32, of Folsom, Calif., employee of the Edge College & Career Network and Key Worldwide Foundation.

●Jovan Vavic, 57, of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., former water polo coach at USC.

●Niki Williams, 44, of Houston, test administrator for the College Board and ACT and an assistant teacher at a Houston high school.

●Michael Center, 54, of Austin, men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin

●Gregory Abbott, 68, of New York, founder and chairman of a food and beverage packaging company.

●Marcia Abbott, 59, of New York, N.Y.

●Gamal Abdelaziz, 62, of Las Vegas, former senior executive of a resort and casino operator in China.

●Diane Blake, 55, of San Francisco, an executive at a retail merchandising firm.

●Todd Blake, 53, of San Francisco, an entrepreneur and investor.

●Gordon Caplan, 52, of Greenwich, Conn., co-chairman of an international law firm.

●I-Hin “Joey” Chen, 64, of Newport Beach, Calif., operator of a provider of warehousing and related services for the shipping industry.

●Amy Colburn, 59, of Palo Alto, Calif.

●Gregory Colburn, 61, of Palo Alto, Calif.

●Robert Flaxman, 62, of Laguna Beach, Calif., founder and chief executive officer of a real estate development firm.

●Elizabeth Henriquez, 56, of Atherton, Calif.

●Manuel Henriquez, 55, of Atherton, Calif., founder, chairman and chief executive officer of a publicly traded specialty finance company.

●Douglas Hodge, 61, of Laguna Beach, Calif., former chief executive officer of an investment management company.

●Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco, owner of vineyards.

●Bruce Isackson, 61, of Hillsborough, Calif., president of a real estate development firm.

●Davina Isackson, 55, of Hillsborough, Calif.

●Michelle Janavs, 48, of Newport Coast, Calif., former executive of a large food manufacturer.

●Elisabeth Kimmel, 54, of Las Vegas, owner and president of a media company.

●Marjorie Klapper, 50, of Menlo Park, Calif., co-owner of a jewelry business.

●Toby MacFarlane, 56, of Del Mar, Calif., former senior executive at a title insurance company.

●Peter Jan Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park, Calif., a packaged-food entrepreneur.

●Stephen Semprevivo, 53, of Los Angeles, an executive at a privately held provider of outsourced sales teams.

●Devin Sloane, 53, of Los Angeles, founder and chief executive officer of a provider of drinking and wastewater systems.

●John Wilson, 59, of Hyannis Port, Mass., founder and chief executive officer of a private equity and real estate development firm.

●Homayoun Zadeh, 57, of Calabasas, Calif., an associate professor of dentistry at USC.

●Robert Zangrillo, 52, of Miami, founder and chief executive officer of a private investment firm.

Nick Anderson and Julie Tate contributed to this report.

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