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Catch of the Week — Wealthy Parents Arrested in College Admissions Bribery Scam

Posted  March 15, 2019

Our Catch of the Week goes to the parents, coaches, exam administrators, admissions “consultants,” and others who were arrested and charged Tuesday for bribery and cheating to secure student admissions to elite colleges and universities. See DOJ Press Release. The FBI’s investigation, Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a nationwide scam led by William “Rick” Singer and his companies, Edge College & Career Network and nonprofit Key Worldwide Foundation. The 33 parents named in the indictment allegedly paid Singer to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams and to coordinate bribes so college coaches and administrators would falsely designated their children as athletic recruits. Singer allegedly covered-up the bribes as tax-deductible charitable contributions to Key Worldwide.

Buying College Admissions: Where’s the line?

This isn’t the first time, nor likely the last, that the government has focused its attention on cheating in college admissions. Just last month the government issued subpoenas to two coaches for the college basketball corruption trial involving bribes to promising athletic recruits. Last year Pennsylvania investigated Temple University, a recent example in the string of colleges inflating admissions statistics to improve rankings.

The notoriously cutthroat and competitive college admissions process is well-understood to be an inherently uneven playing field. Across this backdrop, news of Operation Varsity Blues managed to simultaneously shock the nation and surprise no one. The boldness of the fraud – photoshopping student faces onto athlete bodies, fixing incorrect SAT and ACT exam answers, using grades earned by another student in applications – may be novel, but the discovery that the wealthy parents game the admissions process for their children is not.

Still, Operation Varsity Blues is an encouraging step towards fairness in college admissions. It demonstrates the government will not shy away from prosecuting parents involved in blatant application fraud. In fact, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling called-out the Operation Varsity Blues parents in particular as the “prime movers of this fraud,” decrying their use of money to create a separate and unfair admissions process for their children. “The real victims in this case,” he emphasized, are the “hardworking students” displaced in the college admissions process by “far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in.”


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