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Cheat Sheet: Everything you want to know about the college admissions scheme

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By Elisha Fieldstadt

An alleged $25 million college admissions cheating scheme has disgraced celebrities, sparked lawsuits, led to multiple firings of school staffers and high-profile business people and ignited a national conversation about how wealth and privilege play into the college application process.

Here’s what we know about the results of the 10-month-long FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, that resulted in charges filed against 50 people — including the scam’s mastermind, his accomplices and the parents.

Among the 33 parents who were charged were actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

The scam

The alleged scam aimed to get students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, even if they didn’t play sports, and help students cheat on or outsource their standardized college exams.

Some of the parents spent from $200,000 up to $6.5 million to ensure their children received guaranteed admission to their schools of choice.

“This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud,” U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said on Tuesday.

“There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either,” he said.

The schools

The plot involved students who were looking to attend Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors.

The colleges are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing.

Additionally, none of the involved students have been charged. Authorities said many of the kids had no knowledge that their parents were paying to secure their spots.

The mastermind

Prosecutors said the person who orchestrated the scam was William Rick Singer, the founder of The Edge College & Career Network, LLC, also known as “The Key,” based in Newport Beach, California.

“I am absolutely responsible for it,” Singer, 58, told U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel in Massachusetts on Tuesday. “I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly.”

Singer pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 65 years in prison.

From 2011 up until last month, parents paid Singer about $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to “designate their children as recruited athletes,” according to the court papers. Singer said he has helped provide 761 families with “side doors” to admission.

Singer’s associates would make fake athletic profiles for students, then bribe college coaches to set aside spots for them that were supposed to be reserved for athletes, authorities said.

Singer was also paid $15,000 to $75,000 per SAT or ACT that someone else would take for the wealthy parents’ children. Singer bribed test administrators to allow the stand-in to take the exams, officials said.

In other cases, Singer would secure students extra time to take the standardized tests.

Singer ultimately ended up helping investigators when he agreed to wear a wire to unravel the scam. The FBI originally uncovered evidence of “large-scale fraud” while working on a separate undercover investigation. The probe began in May and involved 200 federal agents across six states.

The parents

Loughlin, best known for her role in the 1980s-90s sitcom “Full House,” and Huffman, who starred in the 2004-12 ABC hit show “Desperate Housewives,” were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud for the involvement in the scheme.

Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to bolster their two daughters’ chances of gaining admission to the University of Southern California, according to court papers. Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid $15,000 to get one of their daughters unlimited time to take her SAT test, prosecutors say.

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