By David D. Dodge
When the college admissions scandal was originally reported on in early March of this year, many observers believed that this news would fade from the front pages within days if not just a few weeks. But over two months later – especially in Southern California, ground zero for the scandal – news reports appear daily as the effects of the scandal wind their way through the early stages of the criminal cases involving charges of fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, tax evasion racketeering, and more.
Actresses, business leaders, and other wealthy parents along with coaches, athletic-department administrators, college admissions administrators, test proctors, and others have been charged with federal crimes. Some have already pleaded guilty and become cooperating witnesses with an eye towards receiving lighter sentences. Others have entered not guilty pleas as they prepare to “roll the dice” at trial in front of a jury.
At the heart of the scandal is William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach college admissions consultant, who was the mastermind of the scam. Singer described his scheme as the “side door” – where he traded six-figure bribes for admissions to elite universities set aside for recruited athletes. In most cases, according to the Los Angeles Times, “bogus athletic profiles littered with fake accolades and Photo-shopped images purporting to show the children of Singer’s clients playing sports they did not play (competitively) which Singer used to ensure they were admitted to elite schools as student-athletes.”
While 50 individuals were originally arrested and charged by federal prosecutors, these prosecutors have reported that additional individuals will be charged. Again as reported by the Times, “of the 33 parents charged in the investigation, five have pleaded guilty and nine others have indicated they plan to do so. The remaining 19 have pleaded not guilty.” Singer, the scheme’s admitted ring-leader has pleaded guilty to four felonies and has been cooperating with federal prosecutors since last fall. And others that have given prosecutors information that’s helped their investigation would seek a sentence at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines.
While most if not all of those charged have no criminal records, it is likely that at least some will receive prison sentences for their crimes. Racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering, tax evasion, etc., are serious crimes with potentially severe penalties. Several have already lost their jobs and their reputations have been severely tarnished.
In one of the highly publicized cases, actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud two months after prosecutors accused her of paying $15,000 to help one of her daughters get a phony SAT score. Prior to her guilty plea, Huffman, in a written statement had expressed, “deep regret and shame over what I have done.” She also apologized “to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
Only when the trials are concluded and the sentences handed down will the dust begin to settle from the college admissions scandal. Until then, the debate will continue about which strategy is best for those charged – plead guilty when the evidence seems solid, or fight the charges in court and hope for a better outcome.