By now, everyone has heard about the huge college admissions scandal in which the rich and famous cheated and bribed their children’s ways into some of the top schools in the country. What you might not know, unless you’ve been paying close attention to the story, is what charges the more than 50 people arrested for their role in the conspiracy will be facing and what the penalties are for those crimes. Here’s what you should know, courtesy of San Diego racketeering lawyer Peter M. Liss.
The man behind the entire enterprise is named Rick Singer. Singer’s conspiracy helped kids cheat on their SAT and ACT scores by bribing exam administrators so his test taker could either take tests in place of students or correct their answers. He would also bribe school coaches to recruit students as athletes, even some who never played the sport before. To cover up the financial side these crimes, he ran these activities as part of a charitable organization.
Singer helped minimize the potential penalties he will face by agreeing to work with investigators and even wearing a wire during conversations with officials and parents. He probably will receive a relatively light sentence despite the long list of crimes he could be charged with. And in fact, he was only charged with a total of four charges: racketeering conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the US. Racketeering and money laundering are both punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, while obstruction carries a sentence of up to 10 years and defrauding the US has a maximum sentence of 5 years.
One of the biggest benefits Singer sold was the ability to improve a student’s SAT and ACT test score just enough to allow them admission into the school of their choice, but not enough to raise eyebrows. He did this by working with Mark Riddell, who actually took tests for some students and changing answers for others. Riddell was so good at what he did that he could actually attempt and succeed at getting an exact score on the tests.
Riddell may have been subject to a number of charges, but like Singer, he cooperated with investigators and negotiated a plea agreement. As such, he faced only two charges: conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Each of these charges could result in a 20 year prison sentence, but while he hasn’t been sentenced yet, he is unlikely to be sentenced to anywhere near the maximum since he worked with investigators.
The Test-Givers and Coaches
A scam like this couldn’t be successful without officials in place to make it work. ACT and SAT officials who allowed Ridell to take the student’s tests as well as college coaches that recruited these non-athlete students for their schools are all being charged with some combination of conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud. Each of these charges can carry a 20 year sentence.
Celebrities like Lori Loughlin of “Full House” and Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” are some of the many parents who have been arrested in this conspiracy. Overall, the parents are all being charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, which carries a 20 year prison sentence. It will be interesting to see how the parents will fare with their sentences given that there are so many defendants but they all have in common the ability to afford to hire some of the best federal attorneys in the nation. It’s likely many will completely avoid conviction, but some may even get the maximum sentence. Only time will tell.
The Admissions Officials and Students
Actually in this scandal, one of the only groups to come out squeaky clean are the college admissions officials themselves. Because the students had coaches recruiting them and high test scores, admissions officials accepted them into the college based on what they believed were the actual merits of the students. As a result, no school officials outside of the bribed athletics coaches have been implicated as of yet.
It is unclear how much the students knew although it is unlikely they will be charged. College applicants generally are keenly aware of their practice test scores from SAT/ACT prep courses, so it seems unusual that a substantial increase in test score wouldn’t be noticed by the student. Additionally, college applications are submitted by the student so it would be odd for an application to be submitted without them knowing the content. Of course, most of the students will be expelled from the schools since they did not actually qualify to get into the colleges in the first place and that is a serious punishment in itself.
If you or someone you know has been accused of a federal crime like those above, Peter Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Creative Common Image by Anthony Mireles