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By now, details about Operation Varsity Blues, aka the largest college admissions scandal ever to be prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice, have become familiar tales, ripe for our giddy consumption—and derision. Back in 2019, the world watched in disgust as dozens of wealthy parents, including celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were charged with paying millions of dollars to bribe their kids' way into elite universities, whether by cheating on the SATs or conspiring with college coaches to get their unqualified children in as elite sports recruits (using Photoshop, for instance), or both.
In addition to the 33 parents indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering, 11 coaches from the nation's top institutions, including Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, and USC, were charged, as well as standardized test administrators and the mastermind of it all: William "Rick" Singer, a college counselor to the one percent whose cooperation with authorities led to these arrests.
Since the FBI raided the posh mansions of Loughlin, Huffman, and their ilk on March 12, 2019, much has been made about Operation Varsity Blues, as this investigation was named (after the 1999 film Varsity Blues). There has already been a Lifetime movie and a book, Unacceptable, by veteran Wall Street Journal reporters Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz. And now, just in time for the two-year anniversary of this explosive scandal, Netflix will grace us with a documentary, courtesy of those behind two of the streamer's highly entertaining real-life tales: Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened and the quarantine godsend Tiger King.
In preparation for the March 17 premiere of Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, a brief primer on all of its salacious, and despicable, details.
The documentary uses real wire-tapped conversations.
Conversations between Rick Singer and his co-conspirators will be recreated in the film using actual FBI wiretaps. As an interviewee is seen saying on the trailer: "It's truly amazing what people will say on the phone when they don't know the Feds are listening." Singer was particularly proud of the 761 "side doors" he opened for applicants. "The front door means getting in on your own," Singer says (Matthew Modine portrays him in the movie). "So I've created this side door in because my families want a guarantee."
From 2011 to 2018, Singer made $25 million from his illegal business, payments which he laundered through his non-profit, Key Worldwide Foundation. On March 12, 2019, he pleaded guilty to four counts: racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. Even though most of the other individuals involved in the scandal have been sentenced and served their time, Singer has yet to appear in court for his sentencing. According to CNN, he faces a maximum of 65 years in prison, plus a $1.25 million fine.
Along with Loughlin and Huffman, the list of scheming rich parents includes a slew of CEOs and executives.
Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman may have been the most high profile targets of Operation Varsity Blues but they were just two of more than 30 parents accused of spending hundreds of thousands, and up to millions, to guarantee a spot for their children at the best schools. A former CEO of MGM Resorts International, a Hot Pockets heiress, a Napa Valley vineyard owner, a self-help book author, a co-chairman of the prestigious law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, which counts Supreme Court justices among its alumni—this is but a sampling of those who abused their wealth and privilege to take away college spots for those much more deserving. And it's but a tiny fraction of the more than 700 aforementioned "side doors" Singer facilitated, meaning there are so many more out there who got away with it.
Where is Lori now?
In order to get their daughter Isabella into USC, Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, sent pictures of Jade on a rowing machine to Singer so he could alter them to look like she was a crew athlete. They also bribed the school's athletic director with $50,000. They did the same for their younger daughter, the social media influencer Olivia Jade, who famously told her YouTube fans, "I don't really care about school, as you all know." Both girls are reportedly no longer enrolled at USC.
After a lengthy back-and-forth between maintaining their innocence and then finally pleading guilty, Loughlin and Giannulli were sentenced to short prison terms last summer following a plea deal with federal prosecutors in Boston. She received a two-month sentence and $150,000 fine, while he got five months and a $250,000 fine. Loughlin was released three days after Christmas—she will have to serve two years of supervised release and do 100 hours of community service. Giannulli, on the other hand, tried—and failed—to get out of jail early by claiming his Covid-induced solitary confinement "placed a significant toll on his mental, physical and emotional well-being." He is due out in April.
What about Felicity?
Unlike Loughlin and Giannulli, Felicity Huffman alone took the fall for paying $15,000 to Singer to get another person to take the SAT on behalf of her daughter Sophia. The Emmy-winning actress's husband, Shameless actor William H. Macy, was named in court filings but, inexplicably, not charged.
Huffman pleaded guilty in May 2019 and received a 14-day sentence. She was released after eleven days behind bars, on October 25, 2019, and has now fully completed her 250 hours of service and year of supervised release. Sophia, meanwhile, got into college on her own merits. She retook the SAT and was accepted to Carnegie Mellon's drama school.
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