Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Hollywood Does Try "Buying Their Way In" to Colleges, But It's Via Donations, Experts Say

College consultants to Hollywood’s elite say that it’s uncommon for stars to perpetrate cons to get their children into top schools. But big donations are another story. Says Hollywood private-school admissions expert Christina Simon, It’s “a time-honored tradition of people with immense wealth donating a building to a university or something like that,” in hopes of getting their child in, but “that's not what we're talking about here.” On Tuesday, Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in a nationwide college entrance exam scam, dubbed by the F.B.I. “Operation Varsity Blues.” Huffman had communicated with a “confidential witness” to have her daughter take the SAT off-site under the auspices of a proctor who would correct some of the answers. Said proctor worked for William “Rick” Singer of Newport Beach, California, owner of for-profit college prep company Edge College & Career Network, and purported charity Key Worldwide Foundation, to which Huffman and husband William H. Macy paid $15,000. Loughlin is accused of paying $500,000 to USC to have her two daughters designated as crew recruits to gain guaranteed admission without actually playing in or excelling at the sport. Danny Ruderman, a college admissions counselor who has worked with children of Don Cheadle, Brian Grazer, Kevin Huvane and Steven Levitan, calls the charges “appalling” and not common for A-list parents. “This is not the standard,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I have had major players in Hollywood and celebrities who do the right thing. They want their children to go to a place that matches who they are, not just some name. And that is actually the standard, not the exception,” Ruderman says. “When you hear a story like this, there is a knee-jerk response to go, 'Oh, people are buying their way in to schools.' That may be true, but it's not, in my experience, widespread.” He adds that he’s personally has never been approached or asked by clients to work fraudulent schemes. However, he believes that if an alumni donates large amounts of money to a school over 20 years, “They’ll absolutely look at your application, but that doesn’t mean that you're buying your way into a school.” Fay Van Der Kar-Levinson, who counsels and preps families of Hollywood’s top elite, says there’s a difference between bribes and donations, which don’t guarantee admission but can serve to make a child’s application stand out. “There are families who have power, influence and money and it shouldn’t make a difference in college admissions, but it does, because these colleges are businesses,” she says. “If you bring in x amount of money, that allows the school to support another student who otherwise could not be able to attend.” Kar-Levinson makes a distinction between “transparent” offers to donate and “actual criminal activity,” citing one experience: “Several years ago, one client of mine in the entertainment industry who was very eager to have her child attend a West Coast college offered $30 million for attendance,” she says, adding, “This particular school said, ‘No, thank you, we just don’t operate that way.’ But this was open and subtle. This client said, ‘I would love for my child to be here and we want to be supportive of this school and we’re in a position where we can do that. The school’s response was, ‘If your child matches what our admissions is looking for, we’re happy to have you here.’ But the child did not match.” With the activities of Singer, who was charged with racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice, “there is nothing transparent about this, they were lies,” says Kar-Levinson, referring to Loughlin’s daughters: “The two girls were shown rowing and they haven’t been on the team. This is the first time I’ve heard of such blatant manipulation, this is falsifying scores, which is very shocking,” she says of Huffman’s daughter. One source shared with THR that they had heard Singer speak at a panel for parents interested in admission, and wasn’t surprised to learn of his indictment: “The guy was so amped and saying you got to brand your kid — it’s the only way to get into school and you have to do it a certain way. It struck me that he wanted parents to create an image or brand for your child, whether or not it is what your child is. ‘Let’s create your child and sell this,’ marketing them like an item to be sold. It felt dishonest that he was encouraging parents to create an inauthentic school candidate.” McGreggor Crowley, an admissions counselor at IvyWise and former director of selection at MIT, says universities have a code of ethics to keep admissions departments and development departments, which handle fundraising, separate. “It's a very squishy thing if an admissions officer is asked by a family, 'Hey, how can we help you guys out?'” The family would be referred to the development officers. While Crowley’s clients do ask about how to donate, IvyWise doesn’t get involved, so conversations take place between families and colleges. “Many families ‘in the know’ know who to call,” Crowley says. “Every college needs to do fundraising. And the development office tends to be pretty savvy with dealing with families that have an expectations that, 'Oh, if I donate this much money then what percent of chance does my child have of being admitted?'” Crowley says there's a lot of management of expectations in that college officers tell parents that their donations may be very generous, but there is no quid pro quo. But he can understand the perception of a direct connection between donations and admission: "You look at the Kushners, for example, and their donations to Harvard and you wonder what went through in that discussion,” he says. “You know there are names of very prominent people who donated money to schools and their children end up going to those schools.” Educational consultant Stephanie Meade of Collegiate Edge agrees, saying that “guarantee” is the key word. Parents can make big donations to universities but, as she has seen, their children still may be rejected from the school. Paying a consultant and athletic coaches directly would fall under an unethical “guarantee” of acceptance. School consultant Betsy Brown Braun is not surprised about the arrests, and considers them the natural outcome of “the college admissions procedure having gone insane — the degree of difficulty to get into college is beyond anyone’s wildest imagination and people are terrified. We need to tighten our systems tremendously — we need a watchdog,” she says of the practice of big donations that might cross the line. “It’s rampant, people accept it and it’s immoral, because it doesn’t make a level playing field. Kids are not getting accepted because of the kid, but because of what parents can pay” to get them into a selective school, she says, adding, “One of my favorite things to tell parents is, ‘Steven Spielberg went to Long Beach State.’” But in 20 years of working as an education consultant, says Brown Braun, “I’ve never seen anything to the extent of this. I’ve heard of SAT cheating, people who plant others to take tests for them, but never in all my years have I seen such blatant bribery that involved parents, a go-between and people associated with prestigious universities. It’s desperation, the extent to which the parents will go.” The Hollywood community remains outraged by the claims against Huffman, Loughlin and the 40 others charged. Ruderman says he awoke to 50 texts from shocked parents and students: “Most of it is outrage, like, 'How or why would we ever do this to our kids?' type of things. These are moms that are commenting like 'What kinds of lessons are we teaching our kids?’” he says. “‘Even if we could buy our children's way into Harvard, what good is that?'”

Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin slammed for 'Hollywood privilege' amid college admissions scam charges 

Actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman faced the heat on Twitter after the stars were charged in for their alleged involvement in a college admissions bribe scandal on Tuesday. The social media platform has exploded in response to the shocking news calling out the actresses for their "Hollywood privilege." Loughlin and Huffman were among dozens charged Tuesday in what is believed to be a cheating scandal with national reach; wealthy parents are accused of forking over thousands -- and even millions -- of dollars to get their kids into elite universities. Loughlin's husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was arrested this morning, as was Huffman; Her husband, actor William H. Macy, has not been charged. Check out some of the best reactions from Twitter below: "I'm actually really angry about this whole Lori Loughlin/ Felicity Huffman thing. Like you b---hes couldn't afford to send your kids to college without jacking these spots from kids who actually worked. Shame on f---ing yo," one user wrote.

Hollywood stars among dozens charged over college entrance scam 

© Provided by AFP "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman (L) and fellow Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin are among 50 people indicted in a nationwide university admissions scam, court records showed "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman and fellow Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin were among dozens indicted Tuesday in a multi-million dollar scam to help children of the American elite cheat their way into top universities. The accused, who also include chief executives, financiers, the chairman of a prominent law firm, a winemaker and fashion designer, allegedly cheated on admissions tests and arranged for bribes to get their children into prestigious schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said. They paid a bogus charity run by Californian William Singer more than $25 million over seven years both to arrange for people to fix SAT and ACT entrance exams for their children, and also to bribe university sports coaches to recruit their children, even when the children were not qualified to play at that level. The case sparked outrage across the country, especially among parents who stress about the intense competition for places in universities and, more broadly, about privileged behavior among the richest Americans. In all, 50 people were charged: 33 parents who paid to give their kids undeserved entry into high-end college life; 13 university sports coaches and test organization operators; and Singer and three others who operated the fraudulent scheme. Thirteen of those accused, including Huffman, were arrested and slated for arraignment late Tuesday in Los Angeles. Others appeared in courts in Boston, New York, Connecticut and elsewhere. Loughlin was not arrested because she was in Canada. None of the universities or the companies who run the tests were implicated, and none of the students involved were charged. "These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege," said Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Boston, Massachusetts where the case was announced. "Every year hundreds of thousands of hard-working, talented students strive for admission to elite schools," he said. "There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and, I'll add, there will not be a separate criminal justice system, either." - Preying on parental anxiety - © Provided by AFP Wealthy parents paid to have the college entrance exam scores of their children fixed to gain admission to elite universities like Georgetown University in Washington The scheme aimed to take advantage of the two years of the anxiety s parents across the United States often endure as they put high school-age children through the standardized tests needed to gain entry into heavily competitive colleges and universities. Even legally, wealth plays a role. Parents who can afford to pay heavily for test preparation and have their children take the tests two or three times to better their scores. In this case, however, Singer arranged for someone to take the test for the students, or paid insiders to fix their scores. And, in a second part of the scheme, the "side door" operation, Singer would create bogus athletic profiles for the students and manage payoffs to university coaches in minor sports like soccer, crew, water polo and sailing so that the student could be accepted on that basis. The payments were made to Singer's fake Newport Beach, California charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, and to non-profits managed by the coaches, which allowed the parents to deduct the payoffs and bribes from their taxes. Singer agreed to plead guilty to fraud charges and assisted investigators in obtaining evidence against his customers and co-conspirators. - Not 'Shameless' - Parents paid as little as $15,000 and as much as $6 million to benefit from Singer's operation. Huffman, 56, and her husband William Macy, the star of Showtime's hit series "Shameless," paid $15,000 for their first daughter to perform well on the test, but decided not to do the same with their second daughter. Macy was mentioned in the case but not charged. Loughlin, the 54-year-old star of "Full House," and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly paid $500,000 to gain their two daughters entry into University of Southern California as coxswains for crew teams -- a sport they hadn't participated in before. Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of New York law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, allegedly paid $75,000 to have his daughter's test grades fixed. And William McGlashan, an executive at the huge investment group TPG Capital who specialized in technology investments, allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for both testing and being placed in University of Southern California as a student athlete. "What is going to happen when they see his application, he'll be flagged as an athlete," Singer told him in a phone conversation recorded by investigators. "But once he gets here, he just goes, he doesn't go to athletic orientation, He goes to the regular orientation like all my other kids just did... and everything's fine." Coaches, including the women's soccer coach at Yale University and the sailing coach at Stanford University, took between $200,000 and $400,000 to accept the students onto their teams. Some attempted to ply the sport and then quit; some claimed injuries and never joined the teams, others, Lelling said, "simply never showed up" to play.

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