Food by VICE

Food and Drink Bigwigs Among Parents Indicted on College Admissions Scandal

The named defendants include a vineyard owner, a liquor CEO, and a 'food and beverage packaging' exec.

by Jelisa Castrodale
Mar 14 2019, 3:02pm

For the past two days, we’ve all been obsessed with the massive, wide-ranging college admissions scam, wondering whether Felicity Huffman sold those ‘Resting Mom Face’ coffee mugs to pay for her kid’s pumped up SAT score, and lowkey enjoying all of those “Have Mercy” tweets about Lori Loughlin.

Fifty individuals have been charged in this decidedly upper-class conspiracy, accused of paying huge sums to have their children's standardized test scores changed and inflated; of bribing athletics department officials to recruit their children as athletes (even when they didn’t play that particular sport); or an extra-fraudulent combination of the two. "This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions," Andrew E. Lelling, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said during a press conference.

In addition to Loughlin and Huffman, the other defendants include a vineyard owner, the CEO of a liquor distribution company, and the founder and CEO of a food and beverage packaging company.

According to the Press Democrat, Agustin Huneeus currently runs Huneeus Vintners, a winery that was started by his Chilean immigrant father. The younger Huneeus allegedly participated in what the United States Department of Justice describes as the “college entrance exam cheating scheme” and the “athletic recruitment scheme” in order to get his 18-year-old daughter into USC. Huneeus agreed to make a $50,000 donation to Key Worldwide Foundation, a “charity” run by the scandal’s alleged mastermind William “Rick” Singer.

In exchange for 50 Gs, Singer allegedly arranged for an on-the-take test proctor to help Huneeus’ daughter during the SAT, and to change some of her answers after she submitted them. The teenager was given a score of 1380 out of 1600—and, according to a wiretapped conversation, Huneeus thought he’d paid for a few more points. (“[S]o you know, if you had wanted to, I mean [my daughter’s] score could’ve been 1550, right?” he said).

Singer also allegedly used this ill-gotten SAT score to try to get Huneeus’ daughter recruited as a water polo player, despite the fact that Huneeus was clear that she didn’t actually want to play water polo—and despite the fact that Singer used a picture of A TOTALLY DIFFERENT TEENAGER on her application. “And is there any risk that this thing blows up in my face?” Huneeus asked, per the DOJ transcript. Singer reassured him that it “hasn’t in 24 years.” On Tuesday, Huneeus appeared in front of a Chief Magistrate in San Francisco, handed over his passport, and was released on $1 million unsecured bond.

Marci Palatella, the CEO of California liquor distributor International Beverage, also allegedly took part in both the exam cheating scheme and the athletic recruitment scheme, in order to have her son’s SAT score bumped up to 1410 (Ooooh, how ‘bout that, Agustin?) and to “position” him as a suitable long snapper for the USC football team. Palatella allegedly paid $75,000 to Singer’s foundation before her son took his SAT, made a $100,000 contribution to the USC Women’s Athletic Board, and then sent another $400,000 to Key Worldwide Foundation after the teen received his acceptance letter to the school. In a recorded phone call, Palatella told Singer that she and her husband “laugh every day” about how he’d helped their son get into USC, adding “‘We’re, like, it was worth every cent.’” She has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Gregory Abbott, the founder and CEO of food and beverage package company International Dispensing Corporation, allegedly paid $50,000 to Key Worldwide Foundation to have his daughter’s ACT test answers altered; her score miraculously jumped from a 23 to a 35 out of a possible 36. The Abbott Family Foundation also paid another $75,000 so the teen Abbott could get a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT, and a 710 on the literature section. (According to a tape-recorded phone call, Abbott was told that she scored in the “mid-600s” on her own).

On Tuesday, Abbott appeared in a federal court in Manhattan, and he was released after posting $500,000 bond. “Get out of my fucking face, ok?" he told a New York Daily News photographer. "You don't know what you're doing."

Yeahhh, the photographer’s not the bad guy here. Not even close.

college admissions