The Biggest Admissions Scam in U.S. History


In what Department of Justice prosecutors are calling the biggest admissions scam in U.S. history, at least 50 people allegedly bribed coaches and paid for forged standardized tests in a conspiracy to get their children admitted to elite American colleges.

Details: To date, 50 people — from business leaders to celebrities like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman and athletic coaches — have been charged in the alleged scheme, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.Show less

Key facts:

  • Orchestrator: Rick Singer, CEO of college admissions prep company, The Key.
  • Number of families involved: 750
  • How much money: $25 million
  • How many years: The scheme went on from 2011 to early 2019.
  • The schools: Yale University, Wake Forest University, the University of San Diego, Stanford University, Georgetown University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.


March 12: Federal prosecutors in Boston charge at least 50 people connected to the scheme.

  • Singer pleads guilty to 4 charges including racketeering and conspiracy.

March 19: USC says students who may be connected to the scheme will be prohibited from registering for classes or acquiring transcripts while the institution continues its investigation.

March 25: 12 defendants, including prominent college coaches, plead not guilty.

  • The U.S. Department of Education notifies the presidents of 8 schools embroiled in the scandal that they are being investigated, per Politico.
  • Yale rescinds an admissions offer to a student linked to the scandal.

March 28: Rudy Meredith, Yale’s former women’s soccer coach, is the third person to plead guilty to taking nearly $900,000 bribes in exchange for recruiting students as athletes no matter their abilities, along with 2 charges of wire fraud. He could face up to 20 years in prison.

  • California lawmakers introduce measures to make it harder for student athletes, children of alumni and donors to get preferential admissions at state universities.
  • Former UT men’s tennis coach Michael Center, who had been fired earlier in March, appears for a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. He did not enter a plea.

March 29: 15 people made initial appearances in federal court, including TPG exec Bill McGlashan and Michelle Janavs, a former executive at the company that developed Hot Pockets.

  • Most parents didn’t speak up. Several lawyers declined to comment as well.
  • Brian Kelly, a lawyer for former casino exec Gamal Abdelaziz, downplayed the charges, calling it a “one-witness case,” per AP.
  • Prosecutors said the government “expects, in the near future, to charge and arrest” other people, per Bloomberg.

April 3: Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin made their first court appearances.

  • Peter Jan Sartorio, a California packaged-food entrepreneur, became the first of 33 parents to plead guilty, per AP. He was accused of paying $15,000 for someone to correct his daughter’s answers on the ACT.

April 4: Harvard launched an official probe into its fencing coach, per the WSJ. It came hours after a Boston Globe exposé.

April 8: Federal prosecutors said Huffman, 12 other parents and the former head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas at Austin have agreed to plead guilty. Prosecutors will seek a prison sentence between 4 and 10 months for Huffman.

  • In her first public comments since her arrest, Huffman said: “My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her.”

April 9: “Full House” actress Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli were originally arrested on one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud charge. On Tuesday, the couple — along with 14 other parents — was indicted with conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering.

  • Loughlin and Giannulli have been accused of paying $500,000 in bribes for their daughters to get into the University of Southern California as crew team recruits, despite neither of them having previously participated in the sport.
  • Netflix told the AP it’s delaying the April 26 release of Huffman’s comedy, “Otherhood,” a day after her guilty plea. A new date will determined.  

April 12: Mark Riddell, 36, who was paid $10,000 to take college entrance exams on behalf of students, according to Buzzfeed News, pleads guilty to charges of mail fraud and money laundering. His sentencing is expected for July 18, meanwhile, he is indefinitely suspended from his full-time job as Director of College Entrance Exam Preparation at IMG Academy, a boarding school in Florida.

April 15: Loughlin and husband Giannulli plead not guilty to charges of mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy, the AP reports. They have not spoken publicly regarding the case.

April 18: Loughlin’s eldest daughter Isabella Giannulli received a letter of intent from federal prosecutors in early April, and may be subject to a criminal investigation.

April 22: Loughlin, her husband Giannulli and more than a dozen other defendants asked to review prosecutors’ evidence before they file any “substantive motions” in the case, per CNN

April 23: Prosecutors said Laura Janke, a former University of Southern California assistant women’s soccer coach, will enter a guilty plea by May 30 to one count of racketeering conspiracy. She has also agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the case.

  • Toby MacFarlane, a former insurance executive who paid $450,000 to facilitate the admission of his children to USC as purported athletic recruits, will also plead guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to court documents.

April 24: Michael Center, the University of Texas’s former men’s tennis coach pleads guilty to accepting 1 $100,000 bribe, the AP reports.


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