The University of Southern California rescinded the admissions of a half-dozen students, and several other colleges and universities pledged to take a closer look at their admissions processes as fallout continued from an admissions scandal that implicated coaches, athletic department administrators and 33 wealthy, well-connected parents who allegedly schemed to get their children admitted to prestigious colleges.
A class-action lawsuit was filed Wednesday on behalf of applicants who were denied admission to several universities affected by the scandal. It alleged that those schools failed to take adequate steps to safeguard against fraud, depriving the applicants of a fair shot. And it emerged that the genesis of the FBI investigation came when an investor tipped off agents to the admissions scheme after he was caught committing securities fraud.
On Tuesday, 50 people were charged or indicted in connection with the scheme, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli. Other parents charged include the owner of a Napa Valley winery, the wife of an NFL legend, high-ranking lawyers, private equity investors, real estate moguls and a media company owner. Some of those charged have already faced consequences: The Hallmark Channel announced it had dropped Loughlin from all future projects, and William McGlashan, who allegedly bribed a USC official to get his son admitted as a recruited athlete, stepped down from TPG Growth, a private equity fund.
Questions remain about what will happen to the college students who were admitted under circumstances being scrutinized by the FBI. According to the criminal complaint in the case, their parents paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to submit fraudulent test scores and fake athletic credentials on their behalf. Prosecutors say that with the help of a corrupt college consultant, the parents paid off coaches so their children could pose as athletic recruits, allowing them to attend selective schools despite lackluster academic records.
Prosecutors indicated that some parents went to great lengths to conceal the scheme from their children, even tricking them into believing they had achieved high scores on tests that were actually taken by a college test preparation director. One mother allegedly asked “whether it would be possible for her to obtain a copy of the exam that she could have her son take at home — so that he would believe he had taken the test,” the court filing said.
Court documents allege the man at the epicenter of the scandal, William “Rick” Singer, has been helping parents get their children into selective schools this way since at least 2011. While the criminal complaint identifies about three dozen children who allegedly were fraudulently admitted, Singer reportedly bragged to one parent that he had facilitated 761 admissions through “side doors” — his term for the scheme.
Georgetown University disclosed Thursday that it plans to hire an independent analyst to audit its athletic recruiting and recommend actions it should take “to strengthen the integrity of our process.”
Prosecutors have alleged Singer paid former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst more than $2.7 million in bribes from 2012 to 2018. In exchange, prosecutors said, Ernst designated at least 12 applicants as tennis recruits, including some who did not play tennis competitively.
The university said it was reviewing court documents and its own records to confirm how many applicants connected to the Singer operation were admitted to Georgetown, and how many are still enrolled.
What the university will do about those students is unknown. Citing federal privacy law, Georgetown said it would not comment on individual students.
At Wake Forest University, federal investigators charged that volleyball coach Bill Ferguson was complicit in the scheme. Court documents say that Singer steered three checks totaling $100,000 to Ferguson in 2017. Half of that money went to a private volleyball camp Ferguson controlled, the documents said, and the rest went to the Wake Forest women’s volleyball program and the Wake Forest Deacon Club.
In exchange, prosecutors said, Ferguson designated one of Singer’s clients as a recruit — a step that boosted the applicant’s chances of admission. School officials acknowledged that an applicant mentioned in the complaint had been wait-listed before being offered admission.
“We have no reason to believe the student was aware of the alleged financial transaction,” university President Nathan O. Hatch said in a statement Wednesday.
Hatch said Ferguson has been placed on administrative leave. “The review completed to date by outside legal counsel underscores that Bill Ferguson acted independently and was the only person at Wake Forest with knowledge of, and involvement with, the alleged misconduct,” Hatch said.
Other schools declined to say what would happen to students who prosecutors allege were admitted through fraudulent schemes. No students have been charged with a crime.
Experts said the scandal crystallizes long-simmering resentment over the disadvantages middle- and working-class families face compared with affluent ones, providing more evidence to the notion that the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy. The anger and outrage may force universities to pull the curtain back on the admissions process, which has long been shrouded in secrecy.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in federal court in Northern California, injected another element into the fallout of the scandal. One of the plaintiffs named in the suit, Stanford student Kalea Woods, also applied in 2017 to the University of Southern California. The suit said Woods and others like her were unaware when they applied that admission was “an unfair, rigged process” in which parents could “buy” slots for their children.
Asked about the lawsuit, universities defended their admissions systems. “Like many students and families across the country, we are also outraged that parents, outside actors and university employees may have committed fraud surrounding admissions at universities,” J.B. Bird, spokesman for the University of Texas at Austin, said. “The University of Texas has a thorough, holistic admissions process. The actions alleged by federal prosecutors against one UT employee were not in line with that policy and may have been criminal. They do not reflect our admissions process.”
FBI agents were tipped off to the scheme by a man they were investigating for securities fraud. Once he was caught, the man offered agents a tantalizing lead — the women’s soccer coach at Yale, Rudolph Meredith, had suggested a bribe could get his child into the school, according to people familiar with the matter.
With that, the FBI arranged a surreptitiously recorded meeting in a Boston hotel room in which the two men discussed the terms, including a $450,000 bribe if the coach designated the man’s daughter as a recruit for the soccer team, which would greatly enhance her chances of admission to Yale, according to court papers and people familiar with the matter. The tipster’s identity was earlier disclosed by the Boston Globe.
The undercover dad allegedly gave the coach a $2,000 cash down payment, according to charging papers.
After that meeting in April 2018, FBI agents approached Meredith, and he agreed to cooperate in providing evidence against others involved in the scheme. That led agents to Singer.