Update 3/12 5:30 p.m. ET: Prosecutors initially said that Lori Loughlin was taken into custody, but a Department of Justice official later clarified that she was not arrested. The story has been updated.
Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been charged in a nationwide college-entrance cheating scam, according to federal court records unsealed on Tuesday.
Huffman, Loughlin, and 48 other individuals — including a slew of wealthy executives and attorneys — engaged in “large-scale, elaborate fraud” to create a “rigged system” at elite American universities like Yale, Stanford, USC, and UCLA, according to prosecutors. In some cases, they allegedly used imposters to stand in for the children at exams or bribed athletic recruiters to recruit their children, even if they didn’t end up playing that sport in college.
Federal prosecutors cited one example where parents paid a $400,000 bribe to Yale’s women’s soccer coach so that their daughter could attend the school. She didn't play soccer.
The investigation is ongoing, and more parents and coaches are believed to be involved.
"This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions," United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling said during a press conference Tuesday.
Huffman, best known for her role in “Desperate Housewives,” and Loughlin, known for her role as Aunt Becky in the wholesome sitcom “Full House,” have both been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, which means the defendants deprived worthy individuals of honest services.
Officials said 38 defendants were already in custody, including Huffman. Seven other defendants are expected to turn themselves in, and authorities are still in pursuit of one individual.
Huffman made a phony charitable contribution of $15,000 “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter” to correct their incorrect test answers after the fact, according to charging documents. She later attempted to make the same arrangements for her younger daughter, though ultimately decided against it, according to the documents. Federal agents recorded phone calls between Huffman and a cooperating witness.
Loughlin and her husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, paid half a million dollars to have their two daughters recruited as members of the USC crew team — even though neither girl ended up rowing crew, according to the documents. Prosecutors charged Loughlin and Giannulli based on emails as well as a phone call in which she appeared to agree to lie that she and her husband gave money as a charitable donation instead of an alleged bribe on their daughters’ behalf.
“So we just have to say we made a donation to your foundation, and that’s it, end of story?” Loughlin said during a recorded phone call with a cooperating witness, according to the charging documents.
“That is correct,” the witness responded.
“OK,” Loughlin said.
Numerous coaches and athletic department officials were also implicated in the alleged scam. Yale women's soccer coach Rudy Meredith is facing wire fraud charges, and Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer has been charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Other alleged offenders include Jane Buckingham, the CEO of a boutique marketing firm, and Manuel Henriquez, the CEO of Hercules Capital.
One of the scheme’s alleged ringleaders, William Rick Singer, would take "staged photographs" of children playing sports — and even photoshopped their faces onto the pictures of other athletes, according to prosecutors. Parents paid him between $100,000 and $6.5 million to participate in the scam, prosecutors said at a press conference. Singer has been charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and obstruction of justice.
Mail fraud charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, though offenders often get probationary sentences.
Cover image: This combination photo shows 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)