ACTORS’ SCAM BUSTED: Sneaky tricks to get rich kids into top universities
Tuesday - 12/03/2019 18:49
From faking disabilities to dodgy photoshop work, these are the tricks used by America’s wealthiest parents to “cheat” their kids’ way into top ranking universities.
Olivia Jade Giannulli didn’t exactly sound like your typical straight-A student.
Prior to starting university last year, the daughter of Full House actress Lori Loughlin and designer Mossimo Giannulli had posted a video to her popular YouTube channel saying she didn’t “really care about school” but wanted the “experience” of “partying”.
“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend,” the social media “influencer” told her nearly two million subscribers. “But I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying … I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”
Despite this, last year she started attending classes at the University of Southern California — one of the world’s most elite and selective private research universities.
Now the 19-year-old’s parents are among 48 wealthy celebrities, CEOs and investors facing jail time following a massive crackdown on a widespread bribery scam involving some of the most elite and selective colleges in the US.
HOW DID THE SCAM WORK?
William Rick Singer is the man who sits at the heart of the scam.
The 59-year-old from California was indicted on charges of running an elaborate scheme to bribe university admissions officers.
Prosecutors said he arranged for fake “test takers” to appear on exam day to take the ACT and SAT university admission tests on behalf of his clients’ children.
It was also alleged he set up pictures of their kids playing sports, and even Photoshopped their faces onto stock photos of athletes in order to help them get coveted sports scholarships to elite schools.
In some cases, parents paid Singer as much as $US6 million ($A8.5 million) to get their kids into a good school.
Officials said his preferred method was to funnel a cut of the payment to sports coaches at the universities who would fast-track the students for scholarships.
To ward off any suspicion, Singer even went as far as staging bogus photos of the kids in action to make their applications look more realistic, prosecutors said.
“In many instances, Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports,” Massachusetts US lawyer Andrew Lelling told reporters today. “Other times, he used stock photos, sometimes Photoshopping the face of the child on the athlete and submitting it.”
According to court documents, this is how Loughlin and Giannulli got their two daughters — Isabella and Olivia — into USC.
They allegedly staged a photo of Isabella on an ergometer and claimed she was a skilled coxswain. However, their daughter “did not row competitively or otherwise participate in crew”.
After the strategy worked for Isabella, they tried it again on Olivia.
The documents noted a “crew profile” was arranged in which she posed in action shots, including a “photograph of (Olivia) on an ergometer”.
In both cases, it was claimed their daughters were coxswains and they were made to pose on rowing machines. But Business Insider notes coxswains do not row in crew races — they sit in the stern, and their job is to steer the boat.
Loughlin and Giannulli agreed to “pay bribes totalling $US500,000 ($AU705,800) 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 — thereby facilitating their admission to USC”.
In some cases, authorities said the children had no idea their parents had paid these bribes.
Singer has made a career out of helping high school kids get into university.
He appears to have started by helping students in Sacramento, the capital city of California.
In a 1994 interview with The Sacramento Bee, he said he filled a void left by overworked high school advisers.
“It’s not that school counsellors don’t want to help. It’s just that they often don’t have the time,” he said at the time. According to the news outlet, he’d been running a business called Future Stars at the time, which he later sold.
A consultant at a rival college-prep company told The Bee while she wasn’t aware of Singer paying bribes, she knew there were “unsavoury things going on”, like inflating students' resumes with fake extra-curricular activities.
“He would always say, ‘I can get you into these schools’. That was his line. As a reputable consultant, you never say that,” the unnamed consultant said.
Singer was charged with running and racketeering the scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which was his active college counselling business. Thirty-three parents and 13 coaches and associates were also charged.
The alleged scheme came to light after authorities discovered Singer’s business scam.
It led to a sweeping national operation between the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service — codenamed “Varsity Blues” — that blew the lid off the $US25 million ($AU35 million) fraud scheme.
Court records showed Loughlin, fellow actress and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman and others, including CEOs, investors and lawyers, allegedly paid millions of dollars to guarantee their children would be accepted into prestigious universities such as UCLA, Yale and Stanford.
In Loughlin’s case, court documents revealed federal agents had obtained emails she wrote implicating her in the scam, ABC News reported.
Olivia Giannulli has since been slammed on her social media accounts by people accusing her of taking away a more deserving student’s place.
She has amassed several million followers across her channels and posts several videos to YouTube featuring her life as a university student, as well as make-up and fashion videos.
In the wake of the scandal, she’s also been slammed for appearing to cash in on her time as a student.
Last year, Olivia posted sponsored content for Amazon Prime on her Instagram account, with an image featuring her inside her USC dorm room.
“Officially a college student! It’s been a few weeks since I moved into my dorm and I absolutely love it. I got everything I needed from Amazon with @primestudent and had it all shipped to me in just two-days,” the paid post read.
Olivia is copping a backlash on all her posts — but especially over this sponsored content.Source:Instagram
“Mommy had to bribe a college to get them to accept you. Please stop trying to floss from here on out,” read one comment.
“I mean, white, rich and privileged. Are we really that surprised? Sh*t hasn’t changed much when there are literal student (sic) working night and day to go to college. If you’re white and rich, you get a free ride to everything. These people haven’t learned one sh*t,” said another.
“Stuff like this makes me sick to my stomach because there’s someone out there who didn’t get in because of her,” read another.
The elite schools named in the scandal include USC, Wake Forest University, Yale University, and the University of California, Los Angeles.