Mystery parent paid $6.5 million to get kids into top universities as part of admissions scandal

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Mystery parent paid $6.5 million to get kids into top universities as part of admissions scandal


The scheme, which allegedly began in 2011, centered on the owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company that wealthy parents are accused of paying to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and to falsify athletic records of students to enable them to secure admission to elite schools.

Of the many outrageous allegations revealed by federal prosecutors in the college cheating scandal, one stands out.

Someone paid $6.5 million to get his or her children into elite schools. But the identity of that parent — and details about which schools were involved — remains a mystery nearly two weeks after authorities in Boston filed the charges against dozens of wealthy individuals.

The lack of information about the money is more notable given that the charges go into intense detail about the alleged actions of other parents, who are accused of bribing and cheating to get their kids into schools such as Yale, USC and UCLA.

Prosecutors have mentioned the $6.5 million in payments at a news conference and in court. But they are not included in the hundreds of pages detailing the charges.

Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said the case is ongoing. Several elite Southern California prep schools have received subpoenas from prosecutors seeking information about some of the students involved in the fraud case. Although the prep schools are not targets of the investigation, prosecutors want to know whether the parents and others accused in the case sought or received help from the schools, sources told The Times.

One source with knowledge of the situation said some of the records federal authorities are demanding are for names not included in the charges filed last week in Boston federal court.

Many parents already facing charges also are under increasing pressure to cooperate and assist prosecutors with bringing charges against others.

It remains unclear how many parents took part in the college admissions scam. Court documents said college fixer William “Rick” Singer had more than 700 clients.

The case accuses Singer, a slew of university coaches and more than 30 parents, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

It centers on a Newport Beach college placement firm run by Singer. Wealthy parents are accused of paying Singer to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and to falsify athletic records of students to enable them to secure admission to elite schools, including UCLA, USC, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown, court records show.

More than 750 parents used Singer’s services, according to prosecutors. While 33 have been charged, prosecutors have sent subpoenas to high schools in Southern California with names of students whose parents have not been charged, suggesting that authorities are preparing to expand the number of prosecutions, according to sources who have seen the documents.

Sources familiar with the investigation but not authorized to discuss it say several parents and their attorneys have been informed they are the subject of the federal inquiry.

Within the massive charging documents, there also are unidentified people who made payments to Singer and various coaches but have not been charged.

The family of a person identified as only “Yale Applicant One” paid Singer $1.2 million, including $900,000 into his charitable organization. Singer, according to the documents, was introduced to the applicant’s family in November 2017 by a financial advisor. The girl’s father told Singer he wanted to make a “donation” for his daughter’s application.

Singer sent the girl’s admissions application to Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, along with her art portfolio, and told Meredith he would change the materials from art to soccer.

On Nov. 17, Singer sent the coach a fabricated athletic profile for the student, making her the co-captain of an elite Southern California soccer club. Singer then got Laura Janke, a former assistant coach at USC, to create the phony credentials, according to documents.

“Need a soccer pic probably Asian girl,” prosecutors say Singer wrote in the email. “Jr National Development team in China … we saying she got hurt this spring so was not recruited til now.”

At the start of the new year, Singer sent Meredith, who had coached the Yale soccer team for more than two decades, a check for $400,000, drawn on the Key Worldwide Foundation charity account.

It was Meredith’s actions that led to the scam’s unraveling. Prosecutors say he solicited $450,000 from another parent, who had previously been charged with securities fraud and promptly gave up the coach’s offer, eventually wearing a concealed microphone during a payoff meeting with Meredith in April 2018. The coach ultimately told federal prosecutors of his deal with Singer.

Yale said in a statement that one of two students linked in court records to the scam was admitted and currently attends the university, while the other was denied entry.

Meredith and Singer have been cooperating with investigators since last year, officials said. Meredith, who resigned from Yale in November, has agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and conspiracy. Singer has pleaded guilty to a series of related fraud charges.

Because authorities got the cooperation of the kingpin, court records show that prosecutors have some of the defendants on wiretaps talking about cheating and bribes aimed at getting their kids into elite colleges. Legal experts say that makes for a strong case and increases the likelihood of early pleas.

Usually, fraud refers to a scheme to obtain money from someone through a false promise. But in 1988, Congress expanded the anti-fraud law. A one-line amendment made it a crime to deprive someone of the “intangible right of honest services.”

In the college cheating scandal, prosecutors are alleging that parents deprived universities of their property — a slot in the school — by deception.



The college admissions process was scandalous long before we learned about celebrity bribes


The indictment of dozens of wealthy parents, including several Hollywood actresses and business leaders, along with the top college athletic coaches they allegedly bribed, tells a shocking story of corruption and deception in college admissions. If the charges are true, these privileged but desperate parents sought to ensure spots at elite schools for their children by pretending they were top flight athletes, helping them cheat on standardized tests, and paying off college officials, among other things.

Well-known designer Mossimo Giannulli was among those charged, along with actress Felicity Huffman. Coaches allegedly pocketed millions of dollars in some cases for their role in helping get the children admitted.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This is simply the extreme and egregious (and, prosecutors say, illegal) edge of a college admissions process that is already heavily weighted with subtle and unsubtle forms of favoritism for the rich, empowered and connected. The offspring of major donors generally receive favorable treatment at private colleges, as do the children of alumni, who tend to be a far more privileged group than other applicants.

Any students currently in college as a result of outright bribery should have their admission revoked.

Furthermore, the parents of affluent children commonly hire private college-admissions counselors who sometimes edit or rewrite — or even write — student essays for them and coach them intensively through the process. These techniques are not illegal. In 2016, journalist Jia Tolentino wrote in the publication Jezebel about her years supporting herself by charging wealthy families $150 an hour to write or rewrite their teens’ essays.

In a more extreme example, the college counseling company Ivy Coach charged one woman $1.5 million to smooth her daughter’s path to an Ivy League college.

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The admissions advantage given to athletes also helps rich kids nab coveted spots at elite schools. According to a 2016 report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, “The popular notion that recruited athletes tend to come from minority and indigent families turns out to be just false; at least among the highly selective institutions, the vast bulk of recruited athletes are in sports that are rarely available to low-income, particularly urban, applicants.” It turns out that football and basketball players are far outnumbered by those engaged in sports that aren’t found in most urban public high schools: fencing, crew, sailing, water polo, equestrian events and the like. Once admitted, the report said, these athletes underperform academically.

Wealthier parents have also gamed the part of the college application in which students show that they have engaged in meaningful community service, often by sending their children on high-priced trips to villages in developing countries, where they help build playgrounds or coach kids’ soccer in between their recreational tourist activities. At the more ambitious end, Richard Weissbourd, lead author of a Harvard University report on problematic college-admissions policies, said he knows of wealthy parents who shelled out money to start a nonprofit school in Botswana just so their daughter could claim on her college application that she had created it; another family did the same with a clinic in Bali.

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Any students currently in college as a result of outright bribery should have their admission revoked. Whether or not they consciously participated, their presence at college is based on fraud — and the seats they’re filling could be taken by other students with legitimate credentials.

But colleges cannot claim to be the hapless victims of parental manipulation of the admissions process. Despite their supposed belief in a system of merit-based admissions, the reality is that they have created and tolerated a lopsided system that, despite some efforts to the contrary, continues to benefit the rich over potentially more deserving students with lesser means.

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Colleges could start fixing this by eliminating the admissions preference for children of alumni, by demanding strong academic performance from all applicants including athletes and by forbidding students to use paid professional help to complete their applications. Students in better-funded schools would still have advantages, but not by as much as they do when they hire private outside counselors. Applicants should have to sign a statement that their essays represent solely their work, and that they understand their admission will be revoked if it's found otherwise. Applicants would still lie here and there, and it is not clear what meaningful enforcement there could be. But at least students — and their desperate parents — might hesitate if they knew they'd be committing fraud.

At the very least, it would send a message that colleges are serious about leveling the slanted playing field of admissions.


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