It is absolutely not a secret that the rich and powerful wield their influence to get their kids into top schools. The curious circumstances behind, say, Jared Kushner's admission to Harvard remind us that, for the elite, there are often back-channel means to their ends. And yet it did not fail to surprise when news broke on Tuesday morning that actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin have been named along with 48 others in an indictment accusing them of being involved in a "a massive bribery scam" (per TMZ) meant to get kids into top universities.
According to an ABC 11 Boston report, 50 people were actually arrested and are facing charges for having "allegedly paid bribes of up to $6 million to get their kids into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and USC." It's crucial to note that in "most cases, the students did not know their admission was contingent on a bribe," so don't blame the teenagers.
As to how this alleged scam was perpetrated, per ABC 11's reporting, an unnamed man in California ran a business facilitating bribes. Parents gave him money, and he gave it to "one of two places: either an SAT or ACT administrator or a college athletic coach." The standardized testing part is fairly straightforward: Administrators would help the kids cheat, either by getting someone else to take the test in their place or by correcting their answers. The athletics route is a bolder ploy: "Coaches would allegedly arrange a fake profile that listed the prospective student as an athlete," and then recruit them to the school under those pretenses. At many institutions, being recruited for sports can help a student with less-than-stellar grades or test scores gain admission, so this creates a back door into the school.
Except these were not athletes being recruited. According to the documents viewed by ABC 11, Loughlin's family "agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team—despite the fact that they did not participate in crew."
Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, allegedly put $15,000 toward boosting their elder daughter's test scores, and began the process of doing the same thing for their younger daughter but then changed their minds.