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An alleged $25 million college admissions cheating scheme has disgraced celebrities, sparked lawsuits, led to multiple firings of school staffers and high-profile business people and ignited a national conversation about how wealth and privilege play into America's college application process.
Here's what we know about the results of the 10-month-long FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, that resulted in charges filed against 50 people — including the scam's mastermind, his accomplices and the parents.
Among the 33 parents who were charged were actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.
The alleged scam aimed to get students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, even if they didn't play sports, and help students cheat on or outsource their standardized college exams.
Some of the parents spent from $200,000 up to $6.5 million to ensure their children received guaranteed admission to their schools of choice.
"This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth, combined with fraud," U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said Tuesday.
"There can be no separate college admission for the wealthy, and I will add there will not be a separate criminal justice system either," he said.
The plot involved students who were looking to attend Georgetown University, Stanford University, Yale University, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of San Diego, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, according to federal prosecutors.
The colleges are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing.
Additionally, none of the involved students have been charged. Authorities said many of them had no knowledge that their parents were paying to secure their spots.
Prosecutors said the person who orchestrated the scam was William Rick Singer, the founder of The Edge College & Career Network, LLC, also known as “The Key," based in Newport Beach, California.
"I am absolutely responsible for it," Singer, 58, told U.S. District Judge Rya W. Zobel in Massachusetts on Tuesday. "I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly."
Singer pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. He could be sentenced to a maximum of 65 years in prison.
From 2011 up until last month, parents paid Singer about $25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators to "designate their children as recruited athletes," according to the court papers. Singer said he has helped provide 761 families with "side doors" to admission.
Singer's associates would make fake athletic profiles for students, then bribe college coaches to set aside spots for them that were supposed to be reserved for athletes, authorities said.
Singer was also paid $15,000 to $75,000 per SAT or ACT that someone else would take for the wealthy parents' children. Singer bribed test administrators to allow the stand-in to take the exams, officials said.
In other cases, Singer would secure students extra time to take the standardized tests.
Singer ultimately ended up helping investigators when he agreed to wear a wire to unravel the scam. The FBI originally uncovered evidence of "large-scale fraud" while working on a separate undercover investigation. The probe began in May and involved 200 federal agents across six states.
Loughlin, best known for her role in the 1980s-90s sitcom "Full House," and Huffman, who starred in the 2004-12 ABC hit show "Desperate Housewives," were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.
Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to bolster their two daughters' chances of gaining admission to the University of Southern California, according to court papers. Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid $15,000 to get one of their daughters unlimited time to take her SAT test, prosecutors say.
Other parents implicated in the fraud include: Gamal Abdelaziz, the former president and CEO of Wynn Resorts Development, and Gregory Abbott, CEO of the International Dispensing Company, who has taken a leave of absence.
Manuel Henriquez has resigned as CEO of Hercules Capital; former TPG executive William McGlashan is no longer at the private equity firm; and Gordon Caplan stepped down as co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP after they were charged in connection with the scheme.
Other business executives charged include Agustin Huneeus, head of Huneeus vineyard in Napa Valley, California; Douglas Hodge, a former CEO of Pimco; and Robert Zangrillo, CEO of Dragon Global, an investment company.
The test-taker and exam administrators
Mark Riddell, a 36-year-old Harvard alum, was paid about $10,000 each time he clandestinely took an SAT or ACT in place of a student. He had been working for Singer since 2012.
It wasn't immediately clear exactly how many tests Riddell took, but prosecutors are seeking to recover almost $450,000 forfeiture.
Riddell faces two criminal counts for conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering, and was indefinitely suspended from his job as director of college exam preparation at Florida prep school IMG Academy.
Singer had also bribed two people who administered the exams — Igor Dvorsiky, of Los Angeles, and Lisa "Niki" Williams, of Houston — to allow Riddell to take the tests or replace students' answer sheets with his own.
The college staffers and coaches
Yale women's soccer coach Rudolph Meredith, who saved a spot on the team for a student who he knew didn't play competitive soccer, was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud. Yale's president said Meredith no longer works at the school.
Jorge Salcedo, a former professional soccer player who coached the UCLA men's team; William Ferguson, who was the women's volleyball coach at Wake Forest; and John Vandemoer, Stanford's head sailing coach were also charged in the alleged scheme.
Stanford fired Vandemoer while UCLA said Salcedo was on leave while the matter is under review.
USC also fired two athletic department employees — senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and water polo coach Jovan Vavic — for allegedly taking bribes of more than $1.3 million and $250,000, respectively, to help students get in as athletic recruits.
Loughlin was also fired. The parent company of the Hallmark Channel said Thursday it was no longer working with the actress, and all of her completed work would be removed.
Loughlin turned herself in Wednesday, and was released on $1 million bond.
Meanwhile, one of her daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli, a YouTube star and social media influencer, was dropped as a collaborator and paid influencer with beauty brand Sephora. Haircare brand TRESemmé said in a statement Thursday it was also ending a partnership with Giannulli.
Giannulli and her sister, Isabella Giannulli, are still enrolled at USC, a university representative told NBC News on Thursday. A case-by-case review will be conducted for students who are at the university and may have connections to the criminal investigation.
Current applicants who are found to be connected to the scheme will be denied admission, a USC spokesman said.
Loughlin, Huffman, Singer and others indicted are also being sued by Jennifer Kay Toy, a mother who said her son, who had a 4.2 grade-point average, was not admitted to some of his choice schools because of the defendants' "despicable actions."
A suit filed Thursday by Stanford University student Kalea Woods against Singer and the schools swept up in the probe claims she wasted time and money on college applications, and her degree will be less valuable "because prospective employers may now question whether she was admitted to the university on her own merits, versus having rich parents who were willing to bribe school officials."
Students from Tulane University, Rutgers University and a community college in Orange County, California, have also filed what they hope will become a class-action lawsuit against Singer and the universities embroiled in his scheme.