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College admissions scam pleas rolling in

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-04-10 00:21

Actress Felicity Huffman, center, leaves the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019. [Photo/VCG]

The teams playing for the men's college basketball championship on Monday weren't the only university athletic teams in the headlines on Monday.

New incidents involving college admissions and athletics became public this week as federal prosecutors announced on Monday that actress Felicity Huffman and 13 other people have agreed to plead guilty to participating in what prosecutors call the largest college admissions scam in US history.

The 14 are among 50 people, including wealthy parents and college coaches, accused by federal prosecutors in Boston of engaging in schemes that involved cheating on entrance exams and paying $25 million in bribes to help their children get into well-known universities.

Huffman, who starred in the Desperate Housewives TV show, was among 33 parents charged in March with conspiring to gain admission to schools such as Yale, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.

Prosecutors, as part of a plea deal after their "Operation Varsity Blues" investigation, agreed to recommend a prison term at the "low end" of the four to 10 months that Huffman faces under federal sentencing guidelines. She also agreed to pay a $20,000 fine and restitution.

Authorities say the scheme was overseen by California college admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer, who has pleaded guilty to facilitating the scam and bribing coaches to falsely present the parents' children as athletic recruits.

Singer, the founder of a college preparatory business known as the Key Worldwide Foundation, pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy on March 12, the same day that the allegations against the parents and coaches were made public.

"The colleges are going to be very aggressive in trying to find out if there are any students (who have lied), even in the past; that's the way the universities in the US work," Steven Mercer, who operates Mercer Educational Consulting in Santa Monica, California, told China Daily.

Mercer said universities also will probably reviewing their recruitment processes for student-athletes.

"I think many, many universities are going to be re-evaluating the procedures, the rules, and they are going to be very, very strict about making sure that exactly what's happening right now doesn't happen again. So I think there will be internal changes to many universities, and they will require a very different kind of process for the students who are being recruited as athletes," he said.

Prosecutors said Huffman, 56, made a $15,000 contribution to Singer's foundation in exchange for having an associate of Singer's secretly correct her daughter's answers on an SAT college entrance exam in 2017.

Actress Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the TV sitcom Full House, and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters admitted to USC as crew recruits, even though neither participated in the sport. They were not among those who agreed to plead guilty, and they have not publicly addressed the allegations.

Michael Center, the former head coach of men's tennis at the University of Texas in Austin, has agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge related to bribes. He was accused of accepting nearly $100,000 to help a non-tennis playing applicant get admitted as a recruit.

Two parents who agreed to plead guilty, Bruce Isackson, president of a California real estate development firm, and his wife, Davina Isackson, have agreed to cooperate in the ongoing investigation.

Stanford has rescinded the admission of a female student whose application included a fabricated sailing credential, The Stanford Daily student newspaper reported Monday.

Although the woman was accepted through the regular process and not as a recruited athlete, her admission was followed by a $500,000 contribution to Stanford's sailing program, paid through former head coach John Vandemoer, the paper reported.

On March 12, Vandemoer pleaded guilty to accepting $270,000 in bribes connected to two students who did not end up attending the university.

Harvard University's longtime fencing coach sold his suburban Boston, Massachusetts home for nearly double its assessed value to a man whose son was later admitted to the school and joined the team.

The coach, Peter Brand, received nearly $1 million in 2016 for the three-bedroom house on a quarter-acre in Needham, assessed at the time at $549,300, The Boston Globe reported Thursday.

The buyer, Jie Zhao, whose older son and wife also attended Harvard, never lived in the home and sold it at a loss 17 months later.

Liu Yinmeng in Los Angeles, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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