Cheat. Bribe. Lie. Here's how the college admissions scam allegedly worked

CNN/ Newswire | 3/13/2019, 11:39 a.m.
The college admissions scheme revealed Tuesday is the largest of its kind ever prosecuted, federal prosecutors said, and features 50 ...
Dozens of parents, including famous actresses, college coaches and a winemaker were charged in an alleged conspiracy to get students into top colleges, according to a federal criminal complaint.

By Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) -- The college admissions scheme revealed Tuesday is the largest of its kind ever prosecuted, federal prosecutors said, and features 50 defendants across six states, millions of dollars in illegally funneled funds and a handful of the country's most selective universities.

But at its core, the alleged scheme is remarkably simple -- and brazen.

Cheat on standardized tests. Bribe the people who decide which students get admitted. All the while pretending that money was for charity.

"I'll speak more broadly, there were essentially two kinds of fraud that Singer was selling," US Attorney Andrew Lelling said, referring to William Rick Singer, the figure at the center of the scheme.

"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," Lelling said at a press conference in Boston.

A total of 50 people were charged in the case. Those arrested include two SAT/ACT administrators, one exam proctor, nine coaches at elite schools, one college administrator and 33 parents, according to Lelling.

Here's how the plan worked, according to prosecutors.

Cheating on the ACTs and SATs

Of course, students who score higher on standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT are more likely to get into selective colleges.

Given that, Singer facilitated cheating on those exams for students whose wealthy parents paid for his services.

Singer pleaded guilty in court on Tuesday to four federal charges and admitted that the case against him was accurate.

According to the indictment, he arranged for a third-party -- generally Mark Riddell, who is charged with two conspiracy counts -- to secretly take the test in the students' place or replace their responses with his own.

How did Riddell allegedly take the tests without being noticed by the test administrators? Well, prosecutors said, Singer bribed them.

Igor Dvorskiy, who administered SAT and ACT tests in Los Angeles, and Lisa "Niki" Williams, who administered the tests at a public high school in Houston, are both accused of accepting bribes to allow Riddell to take the tests. Both are charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering, according to the indictment.

Parents who hired Singer as part of the scheme allegedly paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test, the indictment states.

CNN has reached out to Riddell, Williams and Dvorskiy.

The case of Felicity Huffman allegedly describes this type of scheme.

Huffman, an Academy Award nominee, has been charged with felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to court paperwork filed Monday in federal court in Massachusetts. She was arrested without incident at her home, the FBI said.

She is accused of paying $15,000 to Singer's fake charity to facilitate cheating for her daughter on the SATs, the complaint says.

A cooperating witness told authorities he purportedly traveled from Tampa to a West Hollywood test center to administer Huffman's daughter's exam. She received a 1420 on her test, which was 400 points higher than a PSAT taken a year earlier without the same administrator, the complaint states.