On Tuesday morning, it was reported that actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, along with more than 30 other wealthy parents, had been charged with fraud following an investigation into a massive college admissions scam. According to court documents associated with the case, the scam involved parents paying tens of thousands of dollars to William “Rick” Singer, the alleged mastermind behind the scheme, to arrange for someone to take the SATs or ACTs in their children’s stead, or to set up fake profiles to have them recruited to college athletics teams. The scam was successful — so successful, in fact, that parents reportedly paid Singer a total of $25 million between 2011 and 2018.
The scandal immediately sent ripples of schadenfreude through social media, and no wonder: wealthy people trying to exploit the system and facing the consequences for their actions is a tale as old as time itself, and the fact that these people were wealthy parents trying to place their progeny in some of the world’s most respected higher education institutions is icing on the cake. The fact that two of these parents were Lynette from Desperate Housewives and Aunt Becky from Full House was sprinkles on top of the icing. (A rep for Loughlin told Rolling Stone that she has “no information at this time to share.” A rep for Huffman did not respond to a request for comment.)
Unfortunately for the parents involved in the scam, they could be facing a sentence of up to five years if found guilty, according to Deadline. Fortunately for us, however, the court documents, which were made publicly available earlier today, make for some pretty compelling reading. The filings describe how one of the founders of the Key Worldwide Foundation, the front organization for the alleged scam (referred to in the documents as Cooperating Witness-1, or CW-1) instructed parents how to make up fake athletic profiles for their kids and try to earn extra time on standardized tests, providing extremely specific instructions over the phone and, in so doing, valuable insight into how this “side door” scheme actually worked. Here are nine of the weirdest, most fascinating details from the court documents.
1. CW-1 allegedly urged parents to instruct their children to “be stupid” when they were evaluated as to whether or not they needed extra time to take standardized tests.
An instrumental part of the alleged scam involved kids going to a psychiatrist’s office to be evaluated as to whether or not they had any learning disabilities, such as ADHD or dyslexia, which meant that they’d require extra time to take the SATs and ACTs. According to court documents, CW-1 explicitly instructed one parent to tell their daughter “to be stupid” when speaking to a psychologist. “I also need to tell [your daughter] when she gets tested, to be as, to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is,” he told the parent. “The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies.” CW-1’s exploitation of the SATs allowance for people with learning disabilities was particularly egregious to many on social media.
2. Payments were funneled through a sham charity organization, the Key Worldwide Foundation.
When KWF was under investigation by the IRS in late 2018, CW-1 allegedly phoned a parent to tell them that “my story is, essentially, that you gave your money to our foundation to help underserved kids.” He asked them to repeat that story if they received any phone calls from the agency, which the parent agreed to do. CW-1 told this narrative to the parents involved with the scheme, even though, of course, the “underserved kids” were actually their own progeny.
3. College application essays were allegedly edited to include information that would get kids in to their school of choice.
In one instance, parents who wanted to place their child on the Georgetown University tennis team allegedly had CW-1 bribe Georgetown tennis coach Gordie Ernst to recommend her for admission as a member of the Georgetown women’s tennis team. According to the court documents, the parent forwarded their child’s college application essay to CW-1, which did not initially mention tennis at all. CW-1 went to work on it, and the essay later read: “[B]eing a part of Georgetown women’s tennis team has always been a dream of mine. For years I have spent three – four hours a day grinding out on and off court workouts with the hopes of becoming successful enough to play college tennis especially at Georgetown.”
4. CW-1 allegedly photoshopped applicants’ faces onto stock photos of athletes, sometimes in ridiculous ways.
In one case described in the court documents, CW-1 told a parent that he would photoshop an applicant to make it look like he had played football, even though his high school did not have a football team. CW-1 said this would increase his chances of admission to USC to 90 percent, and the two even discussed what fake position he would play. “I’m gonna make him a kicker,” CW-1 said, prompting the parent to laugh and say, “He does have very strong legs.”
5. Felicity Huffman was concerned about getting caught.
One of the highest profile defendants in the case is Felicity Huffman, the Oscar-nominated actress who is married to William H. Macy. (Macy is referred to as Huffman’s “spouse” in the court documents; although he participated in several phone conversations with CW-1, he is not facing any charges.) In 2018, Huffman allegedly paid CW-1 $15,000 so her oldest daughter could participate in the SAT exam scheme. When it came time for her younger daughter to apply to college, Huffman considered enlisting CW-1 again, but ultimately chose against it because she was concerned her daughter’s SAT tutor would be suspicious if her score increased too much: “I just didn’t know if it’d be odd for [the tutor] if we go, ‘Oh, she did this in — in March 9th, but she did so much better in May.’ I don’t know if that’d be like — if [the tutor] would be like ‘Wow,'” Huffman told CW-1, per the court docs. It’s unclear whether this concern contributed to Huffman’s decision not to enlist CW-1 a second time, but she ultimately decided against it.
6. CW-1 came up with an elaborate excuse for kids who were admitted as student athletes under false pretenses to explain why they didn’t play in college.
Although CW-1 went through the effort of setting up fake profiles for student athlete candidates (some of whom didn’t even play the sport they were allegedly being “recruited” for), he did have a bit of a problem: how to explain the fact that they wouldn’t continue playing sports once they arrive on campus. In one instance, he allegedly told the parent of a child who had been recruited to play on the USC women’s basketball team that Donna Heinel, the senior associate athletic director at USC, had told a suspicious admissions staffer that his daughter “had an injury — and that it happened over the summer — and that she would be out for six to eight months.” The injury in question: plantar fasciitis, which is fairly common among athletes. So if nothing else, CW-1 clearly did his homework.
7. Lori Loughlin’s daughter Olivia Jade, who was fraudulently admitted to USC as a crew recruit, is an Instagram influencer who reportedly hates school.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Massimo Giannulli, allegedly paid $500,000 to CW-1 to have both of their daughters admitted to USC as crew recruits, despite the fact that neither of them had ever been involved in the sport. (As “proof” of their involvement, both girls took photos of themselves on ergometers so CW-1 could set up fake profiles for them.) Loughlin’s younger daughter Olivia Jade is perhaps the best-known student implicated: she is a prominent Instagram influencer with 1.3 million followers. In response to the reports of the cheating scandal, Olivia Jade was heavily criticized when some of her followers unearthed dismissive comments she had made about USC: “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend but I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all,” she said in an “ask me anything”-type video on her YouTube channel. “But I do want the experience of like game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.” (Olivia has since apologized for her comments.)
8. Most of the kids didn’t know about the scheme.
In one particular depressing exchange, a parent asks CW-1 how to deal with her younger daughter, who is unaware of the alleged scheme and wants to raise her score legitimately. “So [my daughter] has said to me, ‘I’m gonna get a 34 on this ACT,’ or ‘I’m gonna keep taking it till I get a 34.’ And I’m like, [Daughter], what if you got like a 32 or a 33?’ She’s like, ‘W– no. I would take it till I get a 34.’ I don’t know if that’s true, but she’s fucking driving me nuts,” the parent says before adding, “I’m like– you know, I just want this one done. And I don’t know if she’s serious. Because she’s not scoring that well on these.”
9. The fake profiles were so extreme that CW-1 would literally alter applicants’ height.
In one case, CW-1 asked an employee to create a basketball profile for a boy who wanted to be admitted to USC. Although the boy was 5’5″ (a fact he referenced in an original draft of his personal statement), his final athletic profile stated that he was 6’1″. Though it’s unclear how, exactly, the young man was expected to justify the discrepancy between his stated height and his actual height when he arrived on campus, he was admitted to USC nonetheless.