SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8) - Fifty people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the nation's most elite schools. At least three individuals with ties to San Diego were also named in the indictment.
Federal authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million in bribes.
The racketeering conspiracy case includes the parents of applicants, ACT and SAT administrators, a test proctor, and coaches at universities including University of San Diego, UCLA, USC, Georgetown University, Stanford University, University of Texas, Wake Forest and Yale.
At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance or business, were among those charged. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested by midday.
Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Three individuals with ties to San Diego were among those named in the indictment.
One individual is Elisabeth Kimmel, who owned KFMB Stations for decades until it was sold to TEGNA, Inc. in 2018, and now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Another individual is Toby MacFarlane who lives in Del Mar. Another man named in the indictment is Robert Flaxman whose son was a student at USD.
Kimmel was arrested Tuesday morning at her home in La Jolla, according to a statement from the FBI. It was unclear when she would appear in court, according to a statement from the US Attorney's office. The FBI's statement also said that MacFarlane was arrested and made an initial appearance in court Tuesday. According to the US Attorney's office, MacFarlane was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled to appear in court on March 26.
Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting into college. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to alter students' scores.
Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.
The University of San Diego released the following statement on the matter:
"The University of San Diego has been cooperating with the United States Department of Justice’s investigation involving an alleged criminal conspiracy to facilitate cheating on college entrance exams and admission into colleges and universities.
We have no reason to believe that any members of our admissions team, our administration or staff, or our current coaching staff were aware of or involved in the alleged wrongdoing. We believe the federal government agrees with this assessment."
The full criminal complaint can be viewed below.
The investigation began when authorities received a tip about the admissions scheme from someone they were interviewing in a separate case, Lelling said. He did not elaborate.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, improved their chances of admission.
Prosecutors said parents were also instructed to claim their children had learning disabilities so that they could take the ACT or SAT by themselves, with extended time. That made it easier to pull off the tampering, prosecutors said.
A website for The Key Worldwide describes William "Rick" Singer as its founder and says, "Rick and his team of coaches have helped thousands of students fulfill their life passion in getting into the right college to achieve their dreams."
Singer, of Newport Beach, California, pleaded guilty in Boston federal court Tuesday to charges including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He faces up to 65 years in prison if convicted.
Attorney Donald Heller told reporters that Singer is "remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life." Heller says Singer is "relieved that this part is over" and intends to fully cooperate with federal prosecutors.
No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of what was going on.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story included different details about Kimmel and MacFarlane's arrests and court appearances. This story has been updated and we regret the errors.
Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling held a press conference Tuesday on the incident. (Mar. 12, 2019).