Varsity Blues college admission scandal revealed the shocking conspiracy that allowed wealthy people to get their kids admitted to colleges through unethical means, including inflating test scores and bribing college authorities. The central figure of the scandal, William Rick Singer, admitted that he had arranged such admissions for over 750 kids. Chinese parents were one of Singer’s most lucrative clients. In fact, one Chinese family allegedly paid him US$6.5 million to get their daughter admitted to Stanford.
The admission scandal
Yusi Zhao’s family paid Singer the US$6.5 million to make sure that she got in the Spring 2017 batch at the university. This is apparently the highest payment Singer had received for a single college admission. While applying at Stanford, it was mentioned that Zhao was a competitive sailor even though she had never participated in such competitions at any point her in life. The Chinese family has not been charged as of yet. In early April, Stanford had expelled a student for faking sailing records. Though the name of the student was not revealed, many speculate that it might be Zhao.
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“The former student included fabricated sailing credentials in her application, which is grounds for expulsion according to University practice. Though she was accepted through the standard process and not as a recruited athlete, her admission was followed by a US$500,000 contribution to Stanford’s sailing program paid through former head coach John Vandemoer, who was fired after agreeing to plead guilty for accepting donations in exchange for recommending non-sailors as recruited athletes,” according to Stanford Daily.
Another wealthy Chinese family paid US$1.2 million to Singer to secure their daughter’s admission at Yale University. Though the student, Sherry Guo, wanted to go to Oxford or Columbia, both these options were discarded after Singer suggested that he only has connections at Yale. Singer fabricated her application, listing Sherry as a recruited athlete. As of now, she no longer attends college. Neither the student nor her family has been charged with bribery. Experts feel that she is a unique case in the sense that Sherry was not familiar with U.S. educational application processes.
“In China, students are told where to attend school. So culturally speaking, Rick Singer’s instructions to her didn’t seem to be out of place as they would to a student who grew up in the United States and has more of an expectation of free choice. I just don’t think the question of guilt is clear-cut in Sherry’s case, at all,” James Spertus of Spertus, an attorney at Landes & Umhofer LLP, said to the Daily Mail.
Singer cooperated with FBI officials for the investigation, helping authorities gather evidence against co-conspirators. In total, 50 people are estimated to have been a part of the scheme, with many agreeing to plead guilty. Singer is facing a fine of US$1.25 million and up to 65 years in prison for his crimes. The investigation was named Operation Varsity Blues after the 1999 Hollywood movie of the same name.
In addition to Chinese parents, wealthy families from America are involved in the scandal. Many of them are well-known celebrities. Lori Loughlin, famous for her role in ABC’s Full House and Netflix’s Fuller House is pleading not guilty for paying US$500,000 to Singer’s nonprofit organization with a view to getting their daughters into the University of Southern California.
Actress Felicity Huffman, known for her role in Desperate Housewives, has pleaded guilty of contributing to a fraudulent charity run by Singer. He had promised to fake SAT scores for her daughter. Huffman is facing a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Other famous wealthy Americans who have been identified of taking advantage of the scheme include former President of Wynn Resorts, Gamal Aziz, founder of Mossimo, Mossimo Giannulli, and former CEO of PIMCO, Douglas Hodge.