Most Americans are very familiar with the college admissions scandal revealed earlier this year involving parents who paid to get their children enrolled in colleges under either false or misleading representations.
These parents made some poor choices—some of whom have acknowledged as much through guilty pleas to the criminal charges brought against them. For those who have elected to contest the criminal charges, their futures remain uncertain.
Let’s start with an overview of the whole situation.
The Varsity Blues Scandal of 2019
In March 2019, it was revealed that several students at high-profile universities were admitted based on falsified applications. These students included the children of actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, as well as numerous other elite (and wealthy) families.
The scandal involved contracting third-party individuals to falsify documents, test scores, and other application materials. These falsities allowed otherwise ineligible students to gain entry into top universities.
Academic achievements were fabricated, athletic credentials were concocted, and money exchanged hands in what became known as the Varsity Blues scandal.
As many as 50 parents were involved, and schools caught up in the scam include USC, Yale, and Stanford.
The Criminal Charges and What Conviction Could Mean
Federal charges involved in the college admissions scandal include conspiracy to commit acts of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. A few parents have also been charged with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery.
Federal fraud occurs when somebody intentionally misrepresents themselves or a fact for their own benefit. In this case, the individuals are being charged with federal mail and wire fraud, which declares it a crime to use any form of communication in the execution of a fraud.
Federal fraud is typically charged as a felony. Penalties include prison time (up to 20 years, depending on the circumstances), restitution, probation, or a $250,000 fine.
Another charge the parents are facing is that of money laundering. Money laundering occurs when an individual conducts a transaction with funds that were gained illicitly, or uses funds to carry out the illicit activity and hide it.
This charge can carry a hefty penalty of $500,000, or twice the value of the property involved (whichever is greater).
Federal Program Bribery
As mentioned, some of the parents are also face a charge of federal program bribery, which means that bribery occurred in a program that receives federal funds.
This charge could carry a penalty of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release, and/or a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross loss, whichever is greater.
Some Parents Struck Plea Bargains, Others Continue to Fight
Some of the parents, like Felicity Huffman, decided to plead guilty early and struck plea deals with prosecutors. She and others have avoid serious prison time, like Huffman’s 11-day prison stay.
They were, however, forced to pay monetary penalties, smaller than they would have paid if convicted following a trial. In some cases, the students were forced to disenroll from the school as well.
Others, like Lori Loughlin, have refused to admit guilt and plan to fight the charges. Those who have made the fight decision have been slapped with additional charges.
We anticipate more to come before the case is decided. In the meantime, the potential penalties for their current charges continue to add up.
Regardless of the Outcome, Everyone Involved Still Has Rights
Although the Varsity Blues scandal has been a source of outrage and – let’s be honest – entertainment for many Americans, we would all be well-advised to remember that these are real people at the center of it.
Whatever their mistakes and whatever the outcome, every one of them still deserves their day in court.