The U.S. college admissions scandal that rocked wealthy families and elite institutions involves millions of dollars in alleged bribes and dozens of people, including sports coaches, celebrities and high-profile business owners.
Court documents filed in the case offer eyebrow-raising details, including allegations that photos of prospective students were altered to make them look like athletes, and that many parents schemed to alter test scores without their kids’ knowledge.
At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents were among those charged in the evolving scandal.
Here are some of the bizarre details from court documents filed by the FBI this week:
Faking athletic prowess
William “Rick” Singer, who pleaded guilty to multiple charges and is described as the mastermind of the scheme, was among those who fabricated “athletic profiles” for students, according to the court documents.
The profiles included false athletic credentials, fake honors and staged or fake photos.
In some instances, parents participated in faking the photos of their children playing sports, while in other cases, the accused “used software such as PhotoShop to insert the applicants’ faces onto the bodies of legitimate athletes,” court documents say.
The fake athletic profiles were used to admit students into elite schools as purported athletic recruits – regardless of whether they were actually good at any given sport -- the documents say.
In one example, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly gave $500,000 to have their two daughters labeled as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team, even though neither girl participated in the sport.
Exploiting rules for students with disabilities
Those accused of running the admissions bribery scheme exploited a college entrance exam policy aimed at helping students with disabilities, court documents allege.
According to the federal affidavit, parents were told to have their children “purport to have learning disabilities” so they could get extra time to write the college entrance exam or take the test at one of two centres that would make it easier to alter the score.
The following exchange between one of the defendants and one of the witnesses in the case was included in the affidavit:
“It’s the homerun of homeruns.”
“And it works?”
“Every time. (laughing)”
Using students’ writing samples to cheat on tests
Jane Buckingham, the CEO of a Los Angeles-based “boutique marketing company” and one of the parents named in the affidavit, allegedly agreed to pay $50,000 so that someone else could take a college entrance exam on behalf of her son.
She allegedly asked that her son be sent a copy of the test that he could do at home so that he would believe he took it himself.
She then allegedly sent a sample of her son’s handwriting so that the alleged scammer could match the writing style while taking the test.
“Yes. He has not great writing,” Buckingham allegedly said about her son.
The FBI alleges that actress Felicity Huffman and her “spouse” – actor William H. Macy, who is not named in the court document – made a purported charitable donation of $15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam scheme on behalf of their oldest daughter.
The documents allege that Huffman arranged to have someone secretly correct her daughter’s answers on the entrance exam, but the plan was almost thwarted when the daughter’s high school offered to supervise the test-taking.
Huffman allegedly wrote in an email: “Ruh Ro! Looks like [my daughter’s school] wants to provide own proctor.”
The test was ultimately arranged on a weekend and Huffman’s daughter received an allegedly altered score of 1420 out of a possible 1600 on the SAT exam.