The Legal Intricacies of the College Admissions Scandal


The college admissions scandal has dominated news headlines in recent weeks. By now you have heard that the actress behind “Aunt Becky” Katsoplis from Full House, Lori Loughlin, allegedly paid bribes totaling $500,000 to get her two daughters recruited to the USC crew team, despite neither of them having any experience with the competitive rowing sport. Lori Laughlin was indicted in mid March and put up a $1 million bond to be released.

How Big is the College Admissions Scandal?

There are already 50 indictments relating to the college admissions scandal. In addition to Lori Laughlin, other big name defendants include:

  • Mossimo Giannulli – Fashion designer and husband of Lori Laughlin
  • Felicity Huffman – Desperate Housewives star
  • William “Rick” Singer – The alleged mastermind behind the college admissions scandal
  • Various college sports coaches

What Charges are these Individuals Facing?

The charges resulting from the scandal are federal indictments. This means the federal government is bringing charges, not the individual states. Generally speaking, the indictments are alleging conspiracy and fraud charges. These charges can take on a variety of different forms, such as racketeering conspiracy, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, money laundering, and fraud charges.

Racketeering Conspiracy

The first charge is racketeering conspiracy. Racketeering involves coordinated fraudulent or dishonest business dealings such as using legitimate organizations to embezzle funds. William “Rick” Singer created a business model, an actual company called “Edge College & Career Network,” through which parents were in contact with coaches and other individuals to pay money for their kids to be admitted into top schools. Specifically, parents allegedly paid bribe money for non-athletes to be recruited and admitted as athletes, as was the case with Lori Laughlin’s two daughters. A racketeering conviction has a possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud

Conspiracy to commit mail fraud is another type of crime these individuals face. Conspiracy to commit mail fraud occurs when somebody utilizes the U.S. Postal Service to further the fraudulent scheme in any way, such as transferring money, etc. This crime also carries a possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Money Laundering

Another crime resulting from the scandal is money laundering. This happens when individuals take money illegally obtained (this would be money from bribes in the college admissions scandal) and make it appear legitimate. This too has a possible penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Money laundering also carries a civil penalty. The civil penalty is the larger amount of $10,000 or the amount of money involved. So, in these cases, there could be a potential penalty equal to the monetary value of the bribes.

Fraud Charges

In the case of the college admissions scandal, there are allegations with the SAT/ACTs that students received extra time to take the test. In some cases, proctors would provide students with answers or correct their answers before submission.

Who is Actually Criminally Liable?

Thirty-three of the fifty indictments in this scandal are parents who paid bribe money and obviously knew what was going on. They can be held criminally liable. Nine of the fifty indictments are coaches who accepted the bribe money. They can be held criminally liable. There are others, such as the SAT/ACT proctors who aided in the scam, who could also be criminally liable.

Are the Students Facing Criminal Charges?

Kids are beneficiaries of the fraudulent scheme, even if they didn’t do the actual bribing. Are the kids criminally liable, though? In many instances, the kids did not even know about the schemes. The argument that the federal government is making in some of these cases is: “How can they not know?” Some of the parents let their kids know, yet others hid it from their kids. As it stands now, each school is permitted to decide whether kids can stay enrolled or retain any degrees already earned. The general protocol a lot of educators are advocating for is:

  • If the kids knew about the scheme – They must leave
  • If the kids didn’t know, and have met enrollment requirements – They can stay

Even though many people are advocating for unknowing students to be allowed to stay enrolled, many of the kids have already dropped out, including Lori Laughlin’s two children Olivia and Isabella.  In an age of social media and publicly available indictments, it has been impossible for the student beneficiaries to retain their anonymity.

Why is This Scandal Happening Now?

This isn’t the first instance of bribes to secure admission, but it became a major headline because of the blatant and trackable bribery.  It is also easier to see whether or not a “student-athlete” was a legitimate recruiting prospect.  Some of the students, like the Laughlin’s, had long and detailed social media lives with no hint of the activities that they were recruited for.  In some cases it was demonstrably false that they had ever competed in their recruited event.

The story took another twist when Dr. Dre tried to flaunt his own daughter’s admission to USC without any kind of bribery.  His tweet caused many people to ask about his $70 Million donation to the school and whether that may have played a role in admission.  He quickly deleted the tweet, but not before it had raised questions about admissions favorability for children of big donors to schools.

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