Two months after prosecutors first went public with “Operation Varsity Blues” — the largest college admissions scheme the Department of Justice has ever prosecuted — much has happened to the two most well-known parents indicted in the scandal: actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Huffman, 56, pleaded guilty to the charges against her on May 13, admitting that she paid $15,000 for someone to correct her daughter’s SAT answers. With sentencing set for Sept. 13, prosecutors said they recommended four months in prison, though the maximum sentence for her conspiracy charge is 20 years.
A total of 20 people have now pleaded guilty in the case, which also indicts Loughlin, of Full House fame, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli. Loughlin, 54, and Giannulli, 55, have pleaded not guilty to charges that they bribed athletic officials at the University of Southern California to get both of their daughters, who do not row, admitted to the school as crew recruits.
On May 14, former USC soccer coach Laura Janke pleaded guilty to creating fake athletic profiles for the children of wealthy students. Prosecutors contend Janke created a fake athletic profile for Loughlin and Giannulli’s daughter Olivia Jade.
Fifty people have been charged in the scheme, which prosecutors say ran from 2011 until 2019. Sports coaches and professionals from multiple universities were indicted, along with SAT and ACT examination administrators and employees from a college counseling and preparation business.
At the forefront of the investigation is defendant William Singer, the owner of The Edge College & Career Network (also called The Key), a for-profit college preparation and counseling program, and CEO of Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), the company’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Singer, who allegedly made $25 million from parents since 2011, has pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering, fraud and obstruction of justice charges.
Singer cooperated with investigators to help build cases against the others indicted.
Here’s what you should know about the admissions scandal:
Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty. What will happen next?
Huffman is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 13. Although the fraud charges against her carry a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars, prosecutors have recommended a sentence on the low end of that range — four months.
In a statement sent to People in April after agreeing with prosecutors to plead guilty, Huffman apologized for her actions. “I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community,” she said. “I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
Huffman also asserted that her daughter had no knowledge of the scheme. “My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her,” she said in the statement. “This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life. My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty.”
Why wasn’t William H. Macy indicted?
Although Macy is recorded discussing the alleged bribery plan with Huffman on phone calls cited in the complaint, he’s not currently indicted. Lawyer and former district attorney from New York Adam Citron tells TIME that’s likely because investigators want to be extra-careful in such a high-profile case: “They want to be very cautious in a case like this, that you’re not going to arrest and indict individuals that you don’t have a strong case against.” In this case, Citron says, they might not have enough “hard evidence.”
A representative for Macy did not return a request for comment.
Lori Loughlin pleaded not guilty. What’s next for her?
Loughlin and her husband both pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, also known as wire fraud, in April. Their next appearances will be at an initial status conference on June 3.
On April 9, Loughlin and Giannulli were hit by an additional charge, conspiracy to commit money laundering, by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Along with 14 other parents, Loughlin and Giannulli allegedly delivered their bribes “in furtherance of the fraud” by paying Singer’s phony charity, according to the Department of Justice. (Huffman is not charged in this new indictment.) A representative for Loughlin declined to comment on the new charge.
Loughlin rose to fame with her role as Aunt Becky on the acclaimed series Full House between 1988 and 1995. She’s also had a starring role in the Netflix reboot, Fuller House. After the charges were announced, the Hallmark Channel cut ties with Loughlin, who has starred in several of the network’s productions.
Giannulli was released on $1 million bail on March 12, according to court filings, and Loughlin was also released on $1 million bail the next day, an FBI spokesperson told the Associated Press.
The criminal complaint, unsealed on March 12, alleges that Loughlin and Giannulli (referenced as the Giannullis throughout the complaint) paid bribes totaling $500,000 “in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team.” But the Giannullis’ two daughters — Isabella, 20, and Olivia, 19 — never participated in crew, competitively or otherwise, according to the complaint. It is not apparent whether either of the Giannulli children knew of the allegations in the complaint.
Loughlin’s team declined to comment. A representative for Giannulli could not be reached.
What’s happening to the other parents involved?
A total of 33 parents have been charged in the scandal, 13 of whom have already agreed to plead guilty. Bruce and Davina Isackson were the first two parents to plead guilty to fraud, on May 1, before Huffman and others followed suit, and more have their plea hearings later in the month.
What’s happening to the university coaches involved?
All of the coaches involved are either on leave or fired from their respective universities.
The former USC soccer coach who authorities say made the phony crew profile for Olivia Jade Giannulli pleaded guilty on Tuesday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors. Laura Janke is the fourth coach to plead guilty in the university scandal, and her sentencing hearing is set for Oct. 17.
As part of her plea deal, Janke said she will work with prosecutors and may be called to testify. The plea agreement also says she will pay a forfeiture of close to $135,000, which is what prosecutors say she gained from the racketeering conspiracy to which she has pleaded guilty.
The other coaches to plead guilty include John Vandemoer, former head sailing coach at Stanford, who was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering. His sentencing hearing is set for June 12.
University of Texas at Austin’s head men’s tennis coach, Michael Center, pleaded guilty on April 24 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 30.
Former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith also pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. His sentencing hearing is June 20.
Georgetown’s tennis coach Gordon Ernst has not yet entered a plea and he will appear in court on June 21. William “Bill” Ferguson, the Wake Forest volleyball coach who was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, pleaded not guilty in March and has a status conference June 3.
Jorge Salcedo, the former University of California at Los Angeles men’s soccer coach, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering on March 25, along with Jovan Vavic, USC’s water polo coach, and Ali Khosroshahin, the school’s women’s soccer coach, who pleaded the same that day. All three have status conferences June 3.
What’s happening to the students at the center of the scandal?
It’s believed that many of the students involved were not aware of the false pretenses under which they were entering college, authorities said. As of now, no students involved are charged in the scandal, but U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said it’s still in the realm of possibility when he announced the charges in March. “The parents, the other defendants, are clearly the prime movers of this fraud. It remains to be seen whether we charge any students.”
Their academic status also remains in question. Yale University said it has rescinded the admission of one student who was allegedly admitted through phony athletic endorsements via former soccer coach Rudy Meredith.
No other students have yet been expelled from their respective institutions due to the indictments, but Georgetown University is undergoing a disciplinary process to review the admission of Adam Semprevivo, the son of Stephen Semprevivo, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud on May 7. Prosecutors say Semprevivo paid the university’s tennis coach, Ernst, to admit his son to the college.
Adam Semprevivo filed a lawsuit on May 15 to prevent Georgetown from expelling him, Bloomberg reports. The student says he knew nothing of his father’s scheme.
Olivia Giannulli, a freshman at USC, has kept a low profile since her parents were charged. With nearly 2 million subscribers on her YouTube channel, she came under fire last year for saying that she was only at USC for the partying, rather than the education. “I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend,” she said in the video, citing her busy work schedule. (She has worked with companies to create sponsored content and even had a collection with Sephora.) “But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying,” she said.
Olivia Jade later apologized for her comments in a separate video. “I’m sorry for anyone I offended by saying that,” she said.
Giannulli last posted a video on March 10, two days before the indictments. Since then, Sephora and TRESemmé both told Buzzfeed News they cut ties with the influencer.
How have the universities responded?
Of the universities involved, no institution is charged with crimes in the case. Still, all universities in question commented publicly on the scandal soon after the initial March indictments, and all of the coaches involved are either on leave or fired.
Coaches and professionals from USC, Yale University, Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA, University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University are implicated in the case. One of the three cooperating witnesses is a former head coach of women’s soccer at Yale.
USC’s athletic department announced on Twitter that it would “cooperate fully” with authorities.
Georgetown released a statement saying that they were “deeply troubled” by the news of the charges against former tennis coach Gordon Ernst and that he left the university in 2018 when an internal investigation found that he violated admissions rules. Ernst did not return requests for comment.
Stanford also released a statement stating that the sailing team’s head coach, Vandemoer, had been “terminated” from the university. An attorney for Vandemoer said that the former coach regrets involving Stanford in the scandal, according to the Associated Press.
The men’s soccer head coach at UCLA, Jorge Salcedo, has been placed on leave, according to a joint statement from the University and its athletics department. Salcedo, who was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, did not immediately return a request for comment.
A spokesperson for UT-Austin said that the university was fully cooperating with investigators and that Center was fired. “Integrity in admissions is vital to the academic and ethical standards of our university,” the statement says.
In a statement on Twitter, Wake Forest University’s president commented on the charges, announcing that Ferguson had been placed on administrative leave. Ferguson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Who is William Singer?
The indictment claims that The Key, based in Newport Beach, Calif., was a facade for William “Rick” Singer to facilitate briberies of college sports coaches and standardized test cheating. Parents would pay non-taxed donations to the non-profit organization, KWF, to keep up the scheme, which promoted itself as a college preparation and counseling program.
Singer pleaded guilty to the four counts of his indictment on March 12. He has been cooperating with federal investigators in the case since September 2018, The New York Times reports.
Employees of The Key helped parents reschedule exams to ensure third party test-fixers or test-takers could be present, as well as directly facilitating or helping parents facilitate bribes of university officials, the complaint says. A representative for The Key did not immediately return a request for comment.