FBI accuses dozens in elite university admissions bribery case

False claims of sporting and academic abilities used to enter colleges including Yale and Stanford, say investigators

March 12, 2019
FBI car

US government investigators have charged dozens of people – including celebrities, business leaders and sports coaches – over allegations that bribes were paid to win students places at elite universities.

The FBI said that the alleged operation began in 2011 and involved coaches, testing officials and private admissions counsellors accepting millions of dollars in bribes to falsify student applicants’ sporting and academic credentials to secure them admission to institutions such as Yale, Stanford and Georgetown universities, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California.

The FBI identified those charged in the case as including television actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin; former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudolph Meredith; Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer; USC women’s soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin, USC women’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic, and USC associate athletic director Donna Heinel; and representatives of the College Board.

Their case represents the largest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted by the Justice Department, according to the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, US attorney Andrew Lelling.

In it, nearly four dozen people, including the actors and corporate leaders, paid as much as $6 million (£4.6 million) to gain their children admission to the elite universities, the FBI said. In some cases, the FBI said, participating coaches fraudulently claimed the students as candidates for competitive college sports teams. In other cases, the FBI said, officials responsible for college admissions tests provided false scores.

The scheme was alleged by the FBI to have been orchestrated by a California company that helps families with the college admissions process. Bribe payments to participating coaches and testing officials were allegedly disguised as charitable contributions.

The allegations depict “a culture of corruption and greed”, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, Joseph Bonavolonta, told a news briefing. “You can’t lie and cheat to get ahead because you will get caught,” he said.

Federal officials did not indicate any knowledge or responsibility among higher level administrators at the affected colleges.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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