BOSTON – Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin appeared Wednesday in federal court to face charges related to the sprawling college admissions scandal that has rocked the higher-education world.
The appearances in Boston were brief: Huffman’s lasted no more than two minutes.
Judge Magistrate Page Kelley changed one condition she had imposed on the actresses and other parents connected with the alleged multimillion-dollar bribery scheme to get their underqualified children admitted to selective schools. The judge magistrate said she would allow them to talk about the case with their children and immediate family members, but she admonished them to be mindful of the risks of obstructing justice.
“I don’t think it’s good for parents not to be able to talk to their children about the case,” Kelley said in explaining her reasoning, adding that it would be “unmanageable” to try to police such conversations.
Loughlin, Huffman and the other defendants have forfeited their passports as a condition of their release, and they are permitted to travel internationally only for important business. They also have to remove firearms from their homes. And they are not permitted to violate local, state or federal law, nor are they allowed to smoke marijuana, which is permitted in the state of California but prohibited by federal law.
Loughlin, star of the 1980s and 1990s television show “Full House,” appeared in the courtroom with her designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli. Huffman starred in the TV series “Desperate Houswives.”
The Justice Department last month charged the actresses and 48 others in connection with the scandal. Those charged included 33 parents who prosecutors say sought to use their wealth to circumvent the admissions process so their children could win admission to elite schools. Prosecutors say most of the parents targeted the University of Southern California, but others set their sights on Georgetown, Stanford, Yale and the University of Texas. The FBI called its investigation “Operation Varsity Blues.” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Boston called the case the largest college admissions scam prosecuted by the Justice Department.
In addition to the television stars, those who are to appear Wednesday include Homayoun Zadeh, an associate professor of dentistry at USC, where he allegedly sought to gain admission for his daughter; Gordon Caplan, a lawyer and the chairman of a global law firm; and Manuel Henriquez, who recently stepped down as head of a Bay Area venture debt firm. Thirteen of the defendants are to make their first court appearances in Boston on Wednesday. Two others, Amy Colburn and Gregory Colburn, have been indicted and are to be arraigned.
William “Rick” Singer, the corrupt college consultant whom prosecutors have cast as the mastermind of the scheme, pleaded guilty last month to racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice. The FBI made contact with him last year, and for months he cooperated with the investigation, recording conversations and gathering evidence against his wealthy clientele.
Prosecutors say parents paid Singer to doctor test scores and bribe athletic coaches. In exchange for a “donation” to a charity he controlled, Singer bribed test proctors and hired Mark Riddell, who was director of test preparation at a well-known Florida sports academy, to take tests for prospective students. But the activity allegedly went further: Prosecutors say that Singer persuaded a USC assistant athletic director, a Yale soccer coach and a Georgetown tennis coach to fabricate athletic profiles for clients’ children so they could be admitted as recruits – even if they did not play the sports for which they were recruited. Prosecutors say all three coaches fabricated the profiles in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes.
According to the criminal complaint, Giannulli, Loughlin’s husband, emailed Singer telling him he was concerned about his daughter’s college prospects and wanted to ensure “we have a road map for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!” At Singer’s instruction, the couple had their daughter pose on a rowing machine for a photo used to create her fraudulent athletic profile. Singer then paid an athletic department official to create the profile. They repeated the process for their younger daughter, and both young women were admitted to USC.
Huffman, best known for her role on the television series “Desperate Housewives,” allegedly schemed with Singer to hire Riddell to take the exam for her daughter, paying $15,000 to a charity controlled by Singer.
The scandal sent shock waves through the world of higher education. It has long been criticized as favoring wealthy students by tipping the scale in favor of the children of alumni and high-figure donors and for athletes who participate in sports more prevalent in affluent communities.
The schools in the scandal have pledged to review their admissions processes to ensure that recruited athletes are carefully vetted. Yale and USC have rescinded offers of admission to students implicated in the scandal.
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