BOSTON (CBS) – Two well-known actresses are among 50 people charged in the “largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice,” the U.S. Attorney in Boston announced Tuesday.
Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, of ABC’s “Full House,” are two of 33 parents charged in the scheme that included ACT and SAT exam administrators, an exam proctor, one college administrator and nine coaches at elite schools.
Related: CBS Los Angeles Coverage
Huffman was arrested without incident in Los Angeles early Tuesday. An arrest warrant was served at Loughlin’s home and her husband was taken into custody but she was not there, according to FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller.
Huffman was set to be released on a $250,000 bond Tuesday evening. She has been ordered to appear in federal court in Boston on March 29.
The central figure, 58-year-old William Singer, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Boston to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. Singer was ordered released on $500,000 bond and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 19.
Singer, of Newport Beach, California, ran a college counseling service called the Key Worldwide Foundation. Between 2011 and 2018 wealthy parents allegedly paid Singer about $25 million in total, according to, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, “to guarantee their children’s admissions into elite schools like Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, the University of South California, the University of Texas, UCLA and Wake Forest.”
“It appears that the schools are not involved,” Lelling told reporters at a news conference in Boston announcing the charges in what investigators called “Operation Varsity Blues.”
According to Lelling, parents would pay Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 to either have someone take a standardized college admissions test for their children or have someone correct the answers immediately after the test was taken.
Prospective students were also falsely identified as exceptional athletes to boost their admissions chances.
“The coaches were allotted slots for athletic recruitment. The coaches worked with Singer, meaning they accepted bribes. Singer gave the coaches sufficiently impressive fake athletic credentials. The coaches used those athletic profiles to convince everyone else internally that this was a good recruit for the team. The person was admitted and the coach pocketed the bribe,” Lelling said.
According to prosecutors, a cooperating witness told Huffman he controlled a testing center and would arrange for a third party to proctor her daughter’s SAT and secretly correct her answers afterward. Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 for her oldest daughter and began the process for her second child but ultimately abandoned the plan because she was worried a fixed score would “set off alarm bells,” according to court documents.
Prosecutors allegedly have a recorded phone call between Huffman and the cooperating witness planning for someone to take the test for her daughter.
Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, is also charged. The couple allegedly agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to have their daughters designated as recruits for the USC crew team, even though they did not participate in crew. Both of the couple’s daughters were accepted to USC. Though prosecutors say most emails were from Giannulli, Loughlin was included and commented on some of them.
The criminal complaint alleges that the children of a cooperating witnesses’ clients submitted fraudulently obtained exam scores as part of their applications to universities around the country, which included Boston College, Boston University, and Northeastern.
Among the nine college coaches facing charges in the scheme is Rudy Meredith, who was the Yale women’s soccer coach for 24 years. Meredith is accused of receiving $400,000 to accept a recruit despite knowing she did not play competitive soccer. Once the student was accepted to the school, her family paid $1.2 million.
Wake Forest University announced it has placed women’s volleyball coach Bill Ferguson on administrative leave. Ferguson is charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering in the case.
John Vandemoer, the head sailing coach at Stanford, also pleaded guilty on Tuesday in Boston. He was charged with accepting $500,000 in bribes.
Only one person from Massachusetts was among the 50 people charged Tuesday. John Wilson, 59, of Hyannis Port, is the founder and CEO of a private equity and real estate development firm. Like Huffman, he was ordered to appear in federal court in Boston on March 29.
“There will not be a separate admissions system for the wealthy. And there will not be a separate criminal justice system either,” Lelling said.
Watch: U.S. Attorney Announces Charges