The one compliment the FBI paid the indicted parents is that it took college admissions as seriously as they did. The investigation included wiretaps, stakeouts, reviews of bank statements, travel records, cell-site data, emails, and interviews with cooperating witnesses—chief among them Singer, who seems not simply to have thrown his clients under a bus, but rather to have taken them to Port Authority and thrown them under an entire fleet.
How did his scam come to light? Let the reader be introduced to Morrie Tobin, upon whose character and doings much will depend. A year-old stockbroker and father of six who lives in the elegant Los Angeles neighborhood of Hancock Park, he got pinched last spring for an SEC violation that allegedly defrauded clients of millions of dollars.
Desperate to lighten his punishment, the Los Angeles Times reported , he offered an unrelated claim: There was a Yale soccer coach, Rudy Meredith, who accepted bribes to let kids into the university. Of all the things Tobin could have given up, this seems an especially cruel one—he had two daughters enrolled at Yale, one had graduated from the university, and a fourth had recently been accepted. At the very least, this revelation put their admissions in an unflattering light.
Read: College sports are affirmative action for rich white students. The out-of-staters are no slouches either. One family divides its time between Aspen and New York; another lives in Greenwich. We are in the home of Gordon Caplan and his wife, Amy. Amy is the heiress daughter of the late telecommunications magnate Richard Treibick. Caplan has not commented publicly on the allegations contained in the filings, or entered a plea; he was scheduled to make his first court appearance on Wednesday.
Gordon graduated from Cornell, but ended up pursuing his law degree at sweaty-browed Fordham, suggesting the combination of privilege and hustle that can really get a certain kind of guy ahead. He seems to have had Cornell on his mind for his daughter, having dramatically upped his annual giving to the low six figures during her sophomore and junior years of high school.
But her grades and scores were apparently too low for the traditional approach, and he and Singer began talking about a scheme. Caplan takes a few hours to digest this idea, and then has a second phone call with Singer. Hotfoot it over to New Haven or Manhattan, and you have to beat them off with a stick.
Why was Singer so certain that this particular psychologist would produce the documentation the student needed? But then, a surprising bit of good news. The only obstacle Caplan has in executing his plan other than the FBI, but that outfit is still months away from making itself known to him is the old ball and chain. In the obdurate way of heiresses who grew up in the cleansing sea air of Sagaponack summers and not amid the hard-roll-with-butter realities of Fordham Law, she has her niceties.
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In July, when both Amy and Gordon get on speakerphone with Singer, the con man suggests having one of his operatives take an online class for their daughter as a means of bringing up her GPA. Maybe it will work. But the Dealmaker of the Year spent considerable time kicking the tires on this one.
Much of the discussion of this scandal has centered on the corruption in the college-admissions process. But think about the kinds of jobs that the indicted parents held.
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Here is John B. Can we make it for consulting or whatever … so that I can pay it from the corporate account?
Will do. Through Singer, he allegedly bribed USC to get his son admitted as a water-polo player. But a guidance counselor at his school learned of the scheme and contacted USC—the boy did not play the sport; something was clearly awry. For this reason, after having read the page affidavit many times and trying to be as objective as possible, I had to conclude that the uncontested winners of Worst People So Far to Be Indicted are Lori Loughlin, an actress, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, a designer.
Read: To stop college-admissions insanity, admit more students. Their daughter Olivia has become a particularly ridiculed character in the saga, because there are pre-indictment videos in which she describes both her lack of desire to attend college and how rarely she attended high school during her senior year. But I have sympathy for her. Up until the scandal, the girl had a thriving cosmetics line, was a popular YouTuber, and was clearly making the best of what Hillary Clinton would call her God-given potential.
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She confronted the girl. The counselor was acting honorably. Loughlin and Giannulli—if the affidavit is to be believed—were in the midst of a criminal operation.
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Yet instead of hanging his head in shame, Giannulli apparently roared onto the high-school campus apoplectic. One way or another, the counselor was impelled—I would imagine by some freaked out higher-up—to send the parents an email:. First and foremost, they have no intention of rescinding [her] admission and were surprised to hear that was even a concern for you and your family. You can verify that with [the USC senior assistant director of admissions] … if you would like. I also shared with [the USC senior assistant director of admission] that you had visited this morning and affirmed for me that [your younger daughter] is truly a coxswain.
Bobbi Dempsey: They bribed college coaches. I collected cans for cash. Ever since the scandal became public, two opinions have been widely expressed. The first is that the schemes it revealed are not much different from the long-standing admissions preference for big donors, and the second is that these admissions gained on fraudulent grounds have harmed underprivileged students.
As off-putting as most of us find the role that big-ticket fundraising plays in elite-college admissions, those monies go toward programs and facilities that will benefit a wide number of students—new dormitories, new libraries, enriched financial-aid funds are often the result of rich parents being tapped for gifts at admissions time.
But the Singer scheme benefits no one at all except the individual students, and the people their parents paid off. Elite colleges pay deep attention to the issue of enrollment management; the more elite the institution, the more likely it is to be racially and socioeconomically diverse. This is in part because attaining this kind of diversity has become a foundational goal of most admissions offices, and also because the elite colleges have the money to make it happen. In , Harvard announced with great fanfare that it had enrolled its first class in which white students were in the minority.
When I was a prep-school college counselor 25 years ago, I thought that whatever madness was whirring through the minds of the parents was a blip of group insanity that would soon abate. It has only gotten more and more extreme.
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But what accounted for the intensity of emotion these parents expressed, their sense of a profound loss, of rage at being robbed of what they believed was rightfully theirs? They were experiencing the same response to a changing America that ultimately brought Donald Trump to office: white displacement and a revised social contract. The collapse of manufacturing jobs has been to poor whites what the elite college-admissions crunch has been to wealthy ones: a smaller and smaller slice of pie for people who were used to having the fattest piece of all. That was the way the system worked.
The very strong but not spectacular white student from a good high school is now trying to gain access to an ever-shrinking pool of available spots at the top places. These parents—many of them avowed Trump haters—are furious that what once belonged to them has been taken away, and they are driven mad with the need to reclaim it for their children.
And—as poor whites did in the years leading up to —they complain about it endlessly.
At every parent coffee, silent auction, dinner party, Clippers game, book club, and wine tasting, someone is bitching about admissions. And so it was that at on the morning of March 12 in the sacramentally beautiful section of the Hollywood Hills called Outpost Estates, all was quiet, save for the sounds of the natural world. In the mid-century modern house of a beloved actress—a champion of progressive values, as is her husband—and two lovely daughters, everyone slept. But at the strike of , there was the kind of unholy pounding at the door that must have sounded more like an earthquake than a visitor: FBI agents, guns drawn, there to apprehend … Felicity Huffman?
For the crime of … paying to get her daughter an extra points on the SAT?
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Down, down, down she went in the FBI car, in her handcuffs and athleisure, down below Outpost, down below Lake Hollywood, down below the Dolby Theatre where she had been so many times—in a beautiful gown, with her famous husband, William H. Macy, beside her—to watch the Academy Awards, once as a nominee.
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All the way down to— my God! The federal courthouse! This was where Donald Trump was supposed to go, not Felicity Huffman. Time pressure: a. Terrifies me. When it comes to tests, I favor: a. Abstract reasoning. Cranking out straightforward problems. Outside of class, I like to: a. Read really tough articles or books slowly. Devour entertaining, popular books.
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