Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin Arrested in College Admissions Cheating Scam Case

Suspects are accused of paying bribes of up to $6 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and USC

Last Updated: March 12, 2019 @ 3:44 PM

Former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman and “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin are among 46 people who have been arrested in a nationwide college admissions cheating scam case, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.

The suspects — who also include William McGlashan Jr., co-founder of STX and a director of the Hollywood agency CAA — have been charged with paying bribes of up to $6 million to get their children into top universities like Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and USC, according to charging documents.

During a press conference in Boston on Tuesday, Andrew Lelling, U.S. District Attorney for Massachusetts, said this was the “largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice,” totaling $25 million in bribes.

The official charges for both actresses were “conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.” If convicted, they could each face up to five years in prison. According to Elizabeth McCarthy, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Huffman was taken into custody early Tuesday and Loughlin has agreed to surrender.

According to a separate affidavit, Huffman and her spouse — “Shameless” star William H. Macy, who was not identified by his name or charged in the affidavit — made a charitable donation of $15,000 “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter.” The document added that Huffman “later made arrangements to pursue the scheme a second time, for her youngest daughter, before deciding not to do so.”

The documents also say that Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”

“McGlashan participated in both the college entrance exam cheating scheme and the college recruitment scheme, including by conspiring to bribe Donna Heinel, the senior athletic director at … USC, to facilitate his son’s admission to USC as a recruited athlete,” according to the affidavit.

Following his arrest, TPG, the private equity firm where McGlashan is a managing partner, placed him on indefinite administrative leave and named co-CEO Jim Coulter as interim managing partner.

Representatives for both Huffman and Loughlin did not respond to requests for comment. McGlashan could not be reached for comment.

The scam centered around a California man, William Singer, who ran a business to help students gain admission into the college of their choice. This would involve being paid a pre-set amount by parents, who then funneled the money to either an SAT or ACT administrator or a college athletic coach. The scheme would work in one of two ways, according to prosecutors: The coaches would arrange a fake profile that listed the prospective student as an athlete or exam administrators would either hire proctors to take the test or correct the answers of a student after the fact.

According to the Associated Press, Singer pleaded guilty in a Boston federal courtroom on Tuesday to charges ranging from racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

The FBI has taken 33 individuals into custody, with another seven that are “working towards their surrender,” FBI special agent Joseph Bonavolonta said during a press conference. He added that there is one individual being “actively pursued” and that four, including Singer, will plead guilty. Lelling the person being “actively pursued” is in Hawaii, and there are rules regarding how early someone can be taken into custody.

Lelling said the investigation, which was code-named “Operation Varsity Blues,” is still active. More parents could be charged, along with college coaches and school officials.

Among the coaches already arrested are Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer, former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, Texas men’s tennis coach Michael Center, and multiple USC coaches. Vandemoer is among the four who will plead guilty, Lelling said.

“It remains to be seen whether any students will be charged,” Lelling said. 

Pamela Chelin contributed to this story.