World

Hollywood actresses, CEOs caught in US college admissions scam

Police uncover massive scheme in which parents allegedly paid millions to have children placed in elite universities

LOS ANGELES Felicity Huffman, an actress ensnared in an alleged college admissions cheating scandal, was reportedly greeted by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents with their guns drawn on Tuesday morning (Tuesday night, Singapore time) at her Los Angeles home.

Huffman, best known for her role in ABC's Desperate Housewives, was implicated in the massive college admissions cheating scandal along with other wealthy and famous parents who allegedly paid millions to have their children placed in elite universities, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Her actor-husband William H. Macy later posted US$250,000 (S$340,000) bail.

Actress Lori Loughlin is also among those who have been implicated in what federal authorities say was a US$25 million scam, Reuters reported.

The most sweeping college admissions fraud scheme ever unearthed in the US was masterminded at a small college-preparation company based in Newport Beach, California, prosecutors said.

It relied on bribes to coaches, phony test-takers and even doctored photos misrepresenting non-athletic applicants as elite competitors to gain admissions for the offspring of rich parents.

"These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege," Mr Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Boston, said at a news conference. "For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected."

William Rick Singer, 58, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges related to running the scheme through his Edge College & Career Network, which charged from US$100,000 to as much as US$2.5 million a child for the services, which were masked as contributions to a scam charity Singer runs.

"I was essentially buying or bribing the coaches for a spot," Singer said as he pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Dressed in a sweater blazer, wearing glasses, her hair in a ponytail, Huffman was among around 20 defendants who appeared in a Los Angeles court.

Loughlin's husband Mossimo Giannulli, a fashion designer known for his Mossimo brand, sat in court wearing a hooded sweatshirt and close-cropped hair. He was released on a US$1 million bond.

Loughlin, best known for her role in the ABC sitcom Full House and the recent Netflix sequel Fuller House, has also been charged.

Prosecutors said the scheme began in 2011 and also helped students get into the University of Texas, Georgetown University, Wake Forest University and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Part of the scheme involved advising parents to lie to test administrators that their child had learning disabilities that allowed them extra exam time.

The parents were then advised to choose one of two test centres that Singer's company said it had control over: one in Houston, Texas, and the other in West Hollywood, California.

Test administrators in those centres are accused of taking bribes of tens of thousands of dollars to allow Singer's clients to cheat.

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