Between 2011 and 2018, a man received approximately $ 25 million to house the children of several wealthy people at top universities in the United States. Authorities discovered the program in 2018, and the following year the allegation of the case known as Operation Varsity Blues – name inspired by the 1999 film of the same name – was published. Now you can get to know this whole story with the new Netflix Documentation.
“Operation Varsity Blues: The University Access Scandal in the United States” was posted on the streaming platform on Wednesday, March 17th. It’s a production by Chris Smith, co-author of two acclaimed Netflix documentaries that have been talked about a lot: “Fyre” and “Tiger King”.
For this project, Chris Smith has crossed the typical documentation format – with interviews with knowledgeable people or people otherwise involved in the case – with elaborate reconstructions that contain well-known Hollywood names. Actor Matthew Modine plays the head of the scheme, William Rick Singer. Production takes 1h40.
Authorities discovered the scandal while investigating yet another fraud case involving a Los Angeles businessman named Morrie Tobin. To lessen his sentence, Tobin agreed to work with the authorities to provide data on another fraud case that would become known, such as Operation Varsity Blues.
Yale University affiliate Morrie Tobin claimed the institution’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith asked her for $ 450,000 to help her youngest daughter enter college. Tobin used a mistake and met Meredith so that the FBI could get evidence that what he said was true.
After Meredith determined that the offer (and the system) persisted, she was caught by the authorities and she, too, agreed to cooperate with the investigation so as not to face such a severe penalty. It was she who initiated the police investigation into William Rick Singer, the “criminal genius” behind the scandal.
Singer had a nonprofit called the Key Worldwide Foundation. At the same time, he was serving as a university affairs consultant for his firm, The Edge College & Career Network, which operated from his home in Newport Beach, California. He was also the author of self-help books aimed at explaining young people how best to enter higher education.
Parents paid huge sums of money for Singer through the Key Worldwide Foundation to implement the programs that would ensure their children’s access to universities. In addition, the status of a nonprofit enabled Singer to avoid various taxes when he received the money. At the same time, the parents deducted their “donations” to the facility from their taxes. From the beginning it was a way of laundering money.
William Rick Singer is now 61 years old.
There were mainly two scams that Singer used. One of them included college admission tests. Singer worked with psychologists who would issue a false certificate stating that a young man had learning difficulties for four or five thousand dollars. This gave this student access to special conditions that benefited him, such as more time to complete the exam in relation to other young people.
At the same time, he asked his parents’ parents – in some cases the children did not even know the crimes were going on – to invent small trips or family plans so that their children could take the exams in Singer-controlled centers, in the area west of Hollywood or Houston, Texas.
The method depended on the cases. In some of them, the people who checked the exams were paid by Singer to correct the wrong answers given by his clients’ children, which resulted in them getting spectacular results and entering the faculties smoothly. But there were also cases where other people were paid by a particular student (who didn’t even show up for class that day) to take the entire test.
The other type of scam, widespread by William Rick Singer and directly related to Rudy Meredith, the woman who brought the authorities to Singer, had to do with sports at elite universities.
Since athletic ability can be an essential element in admitting a student to several American universities, Singer bribed various modalities with coaches to ensure that certain students were authentic child prodigies in their sport, thereby helping them access college .
Often the students didn’t even practice this sport. Photos of the customers’ children were even faked – on the bodies of other sports students – to make everything look as reliable as possible.
For several years, Singer used this network of contacts, through which millions of dollars circulated, to make his business as profitable as possible – and to get his wealthy customers to get their children to go to the university they wanted.
When the authorities discovered the system, William Rick Singer immediately pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the investigation. He denounced who had helped him and who his customers were. The investigation was therefore relatively quick.
In total, more than 50 people were indicted by the state. 33 were parents who paid Singer to do illegal activities, and 11 were professionals from university institutions. Several employees who worked at Singer were also charged.
The vast majority of the accused parents spent several weeks in jail and fined hundreds of thousands of euros in addition to hundreds of thousands of hours of community service. Among the parents were business people from different backgrounds and even Hollywood actors. Lori Loughlin, known as part of “Full House” and “When Calls The Heart,” was one of the convicts. Another was the actress Felicity Huffman, who took part in “Desesperadas Housewives” or in the miniseries “Aos Olhos da Justiça”.
Many of the parents pleaded guilty to not facing more severe sentences. One, businessman Robert Zangrillo, was pardoned by President Donald Trump on his last day at the White House. The professionals who worked at university institutions and were convicted of the crimes have all been fired or suspended from their duties, in addition to paying fines in some cases.
William Rick Singer has still not defined his sentence. According to the legal framework for the crimes he has committed, he faces a possible 65-year prison term and a $ 1.25 million fine. Overall, it illegally benefited young people from more than 750 families (and therefore obviously harmed many others who may not have been able to enter the college they wanted because of the scams). This was the largest lawsuit of its kind ever filed by the American authorities.
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