The college admissions scandal: Why did Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman allegedly pay bribes to schools? Who else is on the list?

Margaret Abrams
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The college admissions scandal: Why did Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman allegedly pay bribes to schools? Who else is on the list?

The college admissions scandal, also known as “Operation Varsity Blues” (based on the James Van Der Beek football film by the same name) has uncovered the high-profile parents who allegedly bribed their children's way into elite colleges, including Georgetown, Yale and USC.

These wealthy parents went one step further than funding new buildings or paying for pricey SAT tutors. Instead, they allegedly Photoshopped photos of their kids playing sports they had never taken part in and faked SAT scores by having other people take the exams for them.

The Wall Street Journal first investigated the details behind the scandal. When financial executive Morrie Tobin was being investigated as part of a financial fraud case he gave investigators information about William Rick Singer, the man behind the scam. That tip spawned a year-long investigation that ended with the arrest of celebrities, CEOs and coaches, accused of faking sports photos, cheating on standardized tests and faking SAT scores.

Full House star Lori Loughlin's influencer daughter, Olivia Jade, was the most famous celebrity offspring apparently involved. The YouTube vlogger and Instagram influencer has been vocal about her hatred of school - and now, it looks like she's dropping out of USC alongside her sister to avoid bullying. Beauty company Sephora have announced that they're ending their partnership with her. She still has 1.4 million Instagram followers but hasn't posted since the scandal broke. She's reportedly "really angry" at her parents for making her go to college at all.

This week, The New York Times reported on how the colleges will be handling the scam - especially since in many cases, the kids didn't realize their parents were apparently offering bribes in exchange for their schooling.

Though other students were in on it - according to New York Magazine, some took the exam alongside proctors who reportedly told them the correct answers during the tests.

Here's what you need to know about the most high profile characters in the scandal - and what happens next.

Who is Lori Loughlin?

(Getty Images)

Lori Loughlin started her career at 11 as a print model and at 15 became a soap star on The Edge of Night.

She starred on Full House as Rebecca Donaldson-Katsopolis - better known as Aunt Becky to its legion of fans. She appeared on its Netflix follow-up, Fuller House, which premiered in 2016 and is currently running.

Loughlin was previously a co-creator, producer and actor on the short-lived WB series Summerland, which a young Zac Efron also starred in. More recently she has appeared in Hallmark Channel movies.

Lori Laughlin in Fuller House (Netflix)

On March 12, she and her husband, Target fashion designer Mossimo Giannuli, were arrested in the college entrance scam and charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She and her husband both posted a bail bond of $1 million, though they are required to appear in court in Boston on March 29.

Since the charges, Hallmark and Fuller House have both dropped her from their shows.

Why did she allegedly pay bribes for daughter Olivia Jade?

(Getty Images)

The Full House star and her husband allegedly paid $500,000 to guarantee that their daughter, 19-year-old influencer Olivia Jade, would be accepted at the University of Southern California.

She also reportedly pretended both of her daughters would join the women’s rowing team, when neither woman had rowed before - Olivia Jade has, however, spent time on yachts.

She was, in fact, spending spring break in the Bahamas on a USC Chairman's yacht when the story broke.

(Getty Images)

During her time at USC, Olivia Jade made it clear her focus was on YouTube rather than University studies, even tweeting “YouTube will always be my #1 passion.”

“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend. But I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of, like, game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know,” she said in one of her widely-watched YouTube videos, according to Yahoo.

She hated high school just as much. "I've gone to one class and I already die. I just wanna go home!" she said in a vlog posted the first day of senior year of high school. "I’m home and I’ve never been so happy to be anywhere in my whole entire life."

Now, reports have emerged that Olivia Jade didn’t even fill out her own application to USC. Instead, applications were submitted by one of Singer’s employees.

Who is Felicity Huffman?

(Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Felicity Huffman is a former Desperate Housewives actress married to Shameless star William H. Macy.

Fittingly, Shameless had a similar plot point to the current college scandal, where one of Macy’s TV children takes the SAT for his wealthy peers to get them into schools like Stanford.

Macy is not being charged at the moment and is simply named in the complaint as “spouse.”

"One can help your children in this business, and the nepotism works, and I have no problems with it. If I can give them a leg up, I absolutely would. It's a great way to make a living. It really is,” he told Entertainment Tonight in a foreshadowing past interview.

Why did Felicity Huffman apparently help her daughter Sophia Grace cheat on exams?

(Getty Images)

Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 to doctor her daughter’s SAT scores. Her daughter also allegedly took the SAT at a testing center where a special proctor corrected her answers afterwards, apparently without her knowing what was happening. In fact, many of the children involved claim they didn't know their parents were apparently paying their way in.

Originally, Huffman’s daughter’s school wanted her to take the test on their campus, to which she responded in an email, “Ruh Ro!” She also reportedly considered using the same technique with her second daughter but ultimately did not go through with it.

Her daughter ultimately received 1420 on the SAT, which was 400 points higher than her PSAT score.

Huffman’s bail was set at $250,000.

Who else is on the college admissions scandal list of names?

There are 33 parents involved who allegedly paid California life coach Rick Singer to help get their children into prestigious colleges across the country.

Singer referred to his technique as using the “side door” and reportedly collected an estimated $25 million from participating parents, who all made tax-deductible donations to his charity - they were actually spent on college bribes.

Prominent businessmen, tech moguls, lawyers and CEOS are all part of the parental units involved. Coaches and college admissions officials are also being charged - federal authorities announced that 50 people were involved in total.

“There were essentially two kinds of fraud that Singer was selling. One was to cheat on the SAT or ACT, and the other was to use his connections with Division I coaches and use bribes to get these parents' kids into school with fake athletic credentials,” US Attorney Andrew Lelling said.

Singer eventually wore a wire to collect intel for the authorities, but apparently warned parents in advance. "You haven't done anything wrong yet so please don't say anything that would be harmful to you guys because you haven't done anything, which was absolutely illegal," Singer said.

What colleges are involved in the scandal?

Stanford campus (Getty Images)

Yale, Georgetown, USC, UCLA, Wake Forest and Stanford are all involved.

University of Southern California(AFP/Getty Images)

All eyes have been on USC because of Olivia Jade’s attendance there. The university told Buzzfeed that they’re starting a “case-by-case review of current students and graduates who may be connected to the scheme.

Wake Forest told The New York Times that the student in this case will remain enrolled, since she didn't appear to know about her parents' actions.

What will happen to Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman?


In all likelihood - given the appetite for Fyre and The Inventor - the scandal will make a pretty juicy documentary.

Olivia Jade and her older sister, aspiring actress Isabella Giannulli, are now reportedly withdrawing from USC to avoid bullying. Olivia Jade has lost many of her lucrative sponsored content deals, including ones with Sephora and Tresemmé.

Both Huffman and Loughlin could potentially face jail time along with the other wealthy parents involved - however, if they show contrition and cooperate with authorities they will, if convicted, probably face fines and shorter sentences or potentially probation instead.

Now, 13 of the 33 parents - including Huffman - have agreed to plead guilty. According to a law enforcement official involved with the case, the prosecutors will be seeking four to 10 months jail time for these 13 parents. Loughlin and her husband allegedly pleaded not guilty to both conspiracy charges, and could potentially face a maximum of 20 years in prison.

While in court, a judge warned defendants that their children could be potential witnesses and told them to be careful before discussing the case with their kids.

Loughlin entered the courthouse in a khaki suit and grey tee. She walked by groups of fans, including some wearing masks with her face. Huffman left the courtroom beside her brother.

How will the scandal be remembered?

The college admissions scandal is coming to your TV screens. Well first, it’s actually hitting bookstores in the form of a book entitled Accepted, written by Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz and published by Portfolio, a division of Penguin Random House. Variety confirmed that Annapurna Television has received the rights to Accepted and will be adapting the story of the scandal for TV. The People V. OJ Simpson writer D.V. DeVincentis will be writing the screen adaptation.