Felicity Huffman Posts $250,000 Bond After Being Charged for College Bribery Scheme

March 13, 2019 Updated: March 13, 2019

BOSTON—Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday, March 12, in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation’s most selective schools.

Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields, were charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” were arrested by midday.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the results of a fraud and conspiracy investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman
Actress Lori Loughlin at the Women’s Cancer Research Fund’s An Unforgettable Evening event in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 27, 2018, left, and actress Felicity Huffman at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2018. (AP Photo)

The coaches worked at such schools as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Huffman, 56, appeared in a Los Angeles courthouse and was released after posting a $250,000 bond.

Her attorney cited her community ties in asking that the actress be released on her own recognizance, which the judge denied.

Huffman is scheduled to appear in court March 29 in Boston.

Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy
Felicity Huffman, left, and William H. Macy arrive at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2018. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on. Several of the colleges involved made no mention of taking any action against the students.

The scandal is certain to inflame longstanding complaints that children of the wealthy and well-connected have the inside track in college admissions—sometimes through big, timely donations from their parents—and that privilege begets privilege.

College consultants were not exactly shocked by the allegations.

“This story is the proof that there will always be a market for parents who have the resources and are desperate to get their kid one more success,” said Mark Sklarow, CEO of the Independent Educational Consultants Association. “This was shopping for name-brand product and being willing to spend whatever it took.”

The central figure in the scheme was identified as admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California. He pleaded guilty, as did Stanford’s John Vandemoer.

William Rick Singer
William “Rick” Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal on March 12, 2019. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

Singer’s lawyer, Donald Heller, said his client intends to cooperate fully with prosecutors and is “remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life.”

Prosecutors said that parents paid Singer big money from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting accepted. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students’ answers.

Some parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and some as much as $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.

Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The IRS is also investigating, since some parents allegedly disguised the bribes as charitable donations. The colleges themselves are not targets, the prosecutor said.

A number of colleges moved quickly to fire or suspend the coaches and distance themselves from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and USC dropped of its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.

Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House” in the 1980s and ’90s. Huffman starred in the TV show “Sports Night” and appeared in such films as “Reversal of Fortune,” ″Magnolia” and “The Spanish Prisoner.”

Actress Lori Loughlin, center, poses with daughters
Actress Lori Loughlin, center, poses with daughters Olivia Jade Giannulli, left, and Isabella Rose Giannulli at the 2019 “An Unforgettable Evening” in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 28, 2019. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Giannulli, whose Mossimo clothing had long been a Target brand until recently, was released on a $1 million bond. He left without answering reporters’ questions. He and Huffman both surrendered their passports. Prosecutors in the case said they have agreed to let Loughlin travel to Vancouver for work, but her whereabouts were not clear.

Loughlin and her husband allegedly gave $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits to the USC crew team, even though neither participated in the sport. Their 19-year-old daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, a social media star with a popular YouTube channel, is now at USC.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the entrance-exam cheating scam.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter’s answers. The person told investigators the couple agreed to the plan.

Macy was not charged; authorities did not say why.

The couple’s daughter, Sofia, is an aspiring actress who attends Los Angeles High School of the Arts.

A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment.

By Alanna Durkin Richer and Collin Binkley

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