Universities are working to contain the fallout from allegations that families with money and clout paid bribes for their children to attend eight prestigious institutions.
They’re facing questions about the fates of students involved and whether they knew about their parents’ alleged acts. And, at a time of year when colleges are whittling down the mountain of applications and sending out acceptance letters, they’re having to look for prospective students who might be connected to the scandal.
Fifty people — including Hollywood stars, top CEOs, college coaches and standardized test administrators — allegedly took part in the scheme to cheat on tests and admit students to leading institutions as athletes, regardless of their abilities. At least eight universities are named in a federal indictment and criminal complaint.
Thirty-three parents face charges in the investigation dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” according to Andrew Lelling, US attorney for Massachusetts.
William Rick Singer, the plot’s accused mastermind, allegedly told prospective clients that he created a “side door” for wealthy families to get their children into top US colleges.
Singer was paid roughly $25 million by parents to help their children get into the schools, the US attorney said. He pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice, prosecutors said.
While the names of the students involved have not been released, universities are scrambling to contain the fallout from a scandal that spans several states and raises questions about whether qualified students were denied entry to accommodate children of the rich and famous.
The prosecutor also raised the possibility that students could be charged, and at least one university has said it will deny admission to applicants connected to the alleged scam.
Here’s what some of the universities involved are saying:
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is at the epicenter of the scandal, with some of the biggest names linked to it, including actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli.
The school plans to use any money received in connection with the alleged scheme to fund scholarships for underprivileged students, interim President Wanda M. Austin said.
University spokesman Gary Polakovic said that all applicants connected to the cheating scam would be denied admission.
A review will be conducted for enrolled students, and USC will make informed, appropriate decisions after it’s completed, he said, adding that some of the students involved may have been minors at the time of their application process.
By Friday morning, the university released a statement saying it had identified six students in the current admissions cycle who would be denied admission to USC.
UCLA has put its men’s soccer head coach Jorge Salcedo on leave as he faces a charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering.
While the university has said it’s not aware of any student-athletes who are under suspicion, it said it’s reviewing the allegations as it relates to admissions decisions.
“We take the integrity of our admission process and the authenticity of the application data we consider very seriously,” the university said. “All students applying to a UC campus must sign a statement certifying the validity and accuracy of all information related to their application.”
If a prospective, admitted or enrolled student misrepresented any aspect of an application, the university said it will take disciplinary actions, including cancellation of admission.
Stanford University has fired head sailing coach John Vandemoer, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy. He allegedly accepted financial contributions to the sailing program in exchange for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission to Stanford.
“Neither student came to Stanford; one student was initially denied admission and intended to reapply but never did, and the second never completed an application,” the university said in a statement.
Stanford said it has no evidence that the allegations involved anyone else but said it will conduct an internal review to confirm that.
Georgetown University’s former tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, is charged in the scheme. The university said he has not coached the tennis team since December 2017 after an internal investigation concluded he had violated university admission rules.
“The investigation found that Mr. Ernst had violated University rules concerning admissions, and he separated from the University in 2018. The University was not aware of any alleged criminal activity or acceptance of bribes by Mr. Ernst until it was later contacted by the US Attorney’s Office,” the university said in a statement.
It said it’s cooperating with investigators, and described Ernst’s alleged actions as “shocking, highly antithetical to our values, and violate numerous university policies and ethical standards.”
University spokesman Matt Hill said there’s no indication any other Georgetown employees were involved.
He declined to comment on students involved, citing the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
“We are reviewing the details of the indictment and will be taking appropriate action,” he said of the university in Washington.
CNN has reached out to Ernst, who now coaches at the University of Rhode Island. The school placed him on administrative leave and said he’s not involved in recruiting current players or signing new ones.
The former head coach of Yale University’s women’s soccer team conspired with Singer to accept bribes in exchange for designating Yale applicants as recruits for the team, according to a court filing. Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith was the head coach for more than 20 years. In 2015, he agreed to work with Singer, according to the filing.
A spokesman for Yale said the university is a “victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach.”
President Peter Salovey said the New Haven, Connecticut, school plans to implement several changes.
The school will conduct an investigation to determine whether “others have been involved in activities that have corrupted the athletic recruitment and admissions process,” Salovey said in a letter to the college community on Friday.
Yale will use external advisers who will suggest changes that will help the college “detect and prevent efforts to defraud the admission process,” he added.
Salovey said officials are working to implement a code of conduct for athletic recruitment.
Wake Forest University
The university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, said it put volleyball head coach Bill Ferguson on leave after he was charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.
“The indictment alleges Ferguson accepted financial payments to influence the admission of a student that had previously been placed on the waitlist,” Wake Forest President Nathan Hatch wrote in an email to students, faculty and staff Wednesday.
Hatch said the university is reviewing admissions and athletics practices, but so far it appears Ferguson acted independently and was the only person involved with the alleged misconduct.
“No other university employees, including admissions officers or other athletics staff, have been implicated in the investigation,” Hatch wrote.
University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin dismissed its men’s tennis coach, Michael Center, a day after placing him on leave. Center is charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
President Gregory L. Fenves said he has asked the vice president for legal affairs to conduct a review of Center’s alleged 2015 fraud and determine whether the university has the necessary rules and procedures in place to prevent future violations.
University of San Diego
The university said it’s cooperating in the investigation, and it has no reason to believe its admission team or coaching staff are involved.
“To ensure that we have taken all the appropriate steps to respond, we are conducting an internal review. Should that review uncover any violations of USD policies, we will take appropriate action,” President James T. Harris III wrote in a letter to alumni.
“As you know, our admissions and recruiting policies are grounded in a commitment to integrity and ethical conduct — principles that are embedded in our mission. The government’s investigation reflects conduct that is neither condoned nor tolerated at USD.”