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Wealthy CEOs, Celebs Charged With Bribery

I love this story so much because, as the best stories always do, it confirms so many of my priors! [1] Here we go:

The Justice Department on Tuesday charged 50 people — including two television stars — with being part of a long-running bribery scheme to get privileged children with lackluster grades into big-name colleges and universities.

The alleged crimes included cheating on entrance exams, as well as bribing college officials to say certain students were coming to compete on athletic teams when those students were not in fact athletes, officials said. Numerous schools were targeted, including Georgetown University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and UCLA, among others.

Boston’s U.S. attorney, Andrew Lelling, called it the largest-ever college admissions scam prosecuted by the Justice Department. Of the 50 people charged as part of the FBI’s Operation Varsity Blues, 33 were parents, officials said, warning that the investigation is ongoing and that others could be charged.

The massive scheme was discovered accidentally by the FBI — while working an unrelated undercover operation, officials said. That tip led to a sprawling, nationwide corruption probe.

“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” said Lelling. “This case is about the widening corruption of elite college admissions through the steady application of wealth combined with fraud. There can be no separate college admission system for the wealthy, and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal justice system, either.”

Here’s a link to the full indictment. [2]

The TV stars are Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman (Mrs. William H. Macy, you betcha). Take a look at Loughlin’s dingbat daughter, who took some deserving kid’s place at USC because her folks bribed the right people.  [3] Excerpt:

Court documents allege she and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”

Before Olivia Jade went off to college in 2018, she generated controversy by posting to her popular YouTube channel that she didn’t “really care about school” but wanted the “experience” of “partying.”

“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend,” she told her nearly 2 million subscribers, according to Yahoo News.

“But I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”

I endorse this message:

And this one:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js [6]

UPDATE: Jane Buckingham was arrested today in the scam. She allegedly paid for her son to get a fake ACT score, and talked to the scammer about getting her daughter Lilia to get a fake ACT score too, as the daughter, says mom, is “not a good test taker.”

Lilia Buckingham is a “social media influencer” — she has 1.4 million Instagram followers [7] — and has a novel coming out called … well, read the announcement. Mama sure is teaching her a lesson about how influence works in this corrupt society. Tom Wolfe should be alive at this moment!

UPDATE.2: Reader Jones:

There is important stuff that is done at universities, somewhere buried deep beneath all the decadence. But that stuff is so important, you could completely level the universities and it would spring up again, of its own accord, and probably in a much healthier form. (Just don’t touch the libraries, or the labs.) The net benefit of just destroying all the universities would be so immense.

It’s amazing that as someone who values knowledge over virtually everything else, and who has spent most of his life up to this point getting degrees from elite universities, I hate them this much.

135 Comments (Open | Close)

135 Comments To "Wealthy CEOs, Celebs Charged With Bribery"

#1 Comment By March Hare On March 13, 2019 @ 7:31 am

Matt in VA nails it, once again.

The real scandal is that buying your way into a humanities degree program is the same thing as burying the degree. Nobody flunks out, hardly anybody gets less than a B.

I can just imagine what the first two months of a competitive STEM program must be like for somebody who bribed their way in or whose parents did it for them. It’s a pretty intimidating experience for the people who earned their way in ,and it’s really hard to fake it.

#2 Comment By A Federal Case? On March 13, 2019 @ 8:10 am

“If it’s a private school then surely they have the right to admit who they want. Of course the bribery is scandalous, but that seems to me to be an internal problem. Similarly with the cheating on the SAT or ACT — those companies should discipline the individuals involved, but it’s hard to see why federal law enforcement needs to be involved.”

The fraudulent activities described crossed state lines, for one. Also, the schools take federal money. Some take lots of it. Remember, both the testing services and schools have made public statements regarding the integrity of their admissions process, on the strength of which people spent huge amounts of time and money preparing for admission. If those processes are corrupt, then those who played by the rules were defrauded. Fraud is especially troubling in the testing services and colleges because we so heavily rely on the integrity of their basic scoring, admissions, and grading processes to credential people, our elites in particular.

The FBI is saying that those processes were corrupted, at least in these specific instances. And there’s the possibility that, like other the other recently exposed institutional corruption and incompetence, it goes deeper and is more widespread. (E. g. the plague of child rape and molestation in the Catholic Church and the massive leadership failures that permitted it to metastasize.)

#3 Comment By rich On March 13, 2019 @ 9:20 am

Regarding people getting into school because their parents gave a big donation:
So a lot of not-so-wealthy folks have probably benefited from financial aid. How do they have all that money? Because rich people pay full tuition (which is insanely high) and donate big money to get their less-than-brillant kids into school. So all of you all attending with a financial aid package, thank the dopey kid with the BMW.

Now, getting in by paying off the tennis coach — that doesn’t exactly help the less-than-wealthy.

#4 Comment By joshua On March 13, 2019 @ 9:21 am

Yes but there is a different legal system for the rich and privileged. When you or I hit someone while drunk we go directly to jail for the next 20 years but when a Walmart heiress does it not once or twice but thrice well… slap on the wrist! If a Kennedy kills someone they look the other way. Cheat on your taxes or defraud millions of savers. Leak state secrets to your mistress, David Petraeus. Circumvent rules of communication, Hillary. The rich and powerful are shielded and allowed to commit any number of illegal activities with impunity for things that the like of Edward Snowden would spend the rest of his life in jail for should he return to his country. And all that is to say nothing acadamia or legacy entries.

Where I work I watch rich kids handed 100k fresh out of college, no knowledge, experience or discernible skills. Placed in the ‘leadership’ program and are fast tracked to management. All while us poor slobs are paid 50k for entry and are made to feel lucky that the ‘leaders’ haven’t outsourced our jobs to Indians. The hell with burning down the universities. Burn it all down! Everything from beginning to end.

#5 Comment By Curious Reader On March 13, 2019 @ 9:27 am

To further what Say What? said earlier on, at UCLA–crosstown rival to USC–USC was said to stand for University of Spoiled Children. It was for rich, not-too-bright kids who really wanted a “full” Greek experience as undergraduates.

#6 Comment By Ms On March 13, 2019 @ 9:45 am

I thought USC was University of Spoiled Children- that’s what a kid from USC told me.

#7 Comment By TR On March 13, 2019 @ 9:48 am

Which of the readers here is willing to shut down the “decadent” state university in his community, putting a couple of thousand out of work? Which of the readers here is willing to shut down the local defense plant (there’s at least one in every congressional district, I’m sure) thereby eliminating a lot of high paying jobs?

I’m reminded of Senator John Tower when he chaired the Senate Armed Forces Committee. To stop the hypocrisy of members calling for base closures, he asked every member to turn in the installations in his state that should be closed. No senator could find a single example from his own state.

#8 Comment By TR On March 13, 2019 @ 9:51 am

Your hyper-moralism is far too simplistic. What makes you think a deserving kid was cheated out of a seat? Admission criteria are complex. It’s just as likely that a Fiji Islander with low scores who was slated to be admitted under the “Globalism” or “Diversity” rubric or worse slipped a notch.

#9 Comment By Fr Martin Fox On March 13, 2019 @ 10:06 am

I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

This sort of corruption is almost certainly as old as the hills. What makes it schadenfreudilicious is that you just know these crooks were, have and — after a decent interval — will be mouthing the usual progressive pieties about social justice.

The real concern is the debasement of education that this merely spotlights. Real education is a strategic asset, and we have a burgeoning population of “future leaders” who have been trained not to think.

What to do? I’m convinced the racket we call higher education can be substantially challenged by the Internet. Most of what used to require being physically present, full time, on a college campus can surely be gained via online education, supplemented by community colleges, and for those specialized courses, short term trips to the main campus. The whole racket deserves to be massively deflated and defunded, and on the whole, this will be healthy for the country.

As a political project, the time may be coming. Growing numbers of alumni are being alienated by their almae matres, and budget crunches are coming everywhere. Why shouldn’t state legislators, governors, and members of Congress and the President, declare for a policy that since technology is making the old methods obsolete, tax money will henceforth be provided only for the new, much more economical methods? Also a solution for hate crimes, microaggressions and sexual predation.

#10 Comment By Kate On March 13, 2019 @ 10:13 am

I respectfully disagree with reader Jones on one aspect. I have spent my career in science, most recently has directory of clinical development for a biotech firm. I have worked on research with most of the elite universities in this country and the quality of the research is shockingly low. For a good portion of my career, I worked as a quality assurance professional. That career path was mandated by law in 1978 when the FDA decided to investigate the quality of the data submitted to them for their marketing decisions. Again, shockingly low. From poorly designed studies to outright fraud. Pharmaceutical firms get a bad rap, but they have been most rigorously scrutinized over the past 30 years, whereas academia has not. We would avoid working with the universities at all cost because the work needed to bring their data up to par was extensive. Additionally, the Universities breed arrogance, so they are not particularly receptive to this. That has changed recently as pharmaceuticals have gone after rarer diseases and universities have realized there is a gold mine to be had there. Again, pharma gets a bad rap on pricing (and deservedly so) but a good portion of that costs is what we pay universities to conduct these studies – outrageous, given the low quality. Having written these checks, and combed through line by line of data, I have plenty of experience in this regard. So I agree with reader Jones that the universities could be leveled INCLUDING the labs, and the work would spring up again in much healthier form.

#11 Comment By Ben H On March 13, 2019 @ 10:29 am

We need to understand that we have a new “meritocracy.”

The current standard of merit isn’t based on excellence, character or any of that stuff, it’s based on the 3 legged stool of dishonesty, sociopathy and getting away with it.

The people involved in this scheme succeeded at the first two “legs” but failed at the third. Maybe they can learn to code!

As Old West noted above, it is not as if – besides these people – “merit” is accorded in any way fairly. No it is that other people are gaming the system and getting away with it!

So, the basis for the power that our centralized institutions have is “merit”, but the basis of merit is dishonesty, etc. Is it any wonder the direction we are heading?

#12 Comment By Roland P. On March 13, 2019 @ 10:51 am


In the old days all you had to do was pay for a building on campus to get your sprog admitted…

I guess buildings cost too much today..

#13 Comment By TA On March 13, 2019 @ 10:52 am

For all of the commenters who have said they don’t understand why these people don’t just make a donation to the school and do this the direct and old fashioned way – that way is too expensive for most of these people.

It looks like the dollar amounts were mostly around $100k to $500k. At least at an Ivy, that sort of donation will get you a very nice call and note from the Alumni office, some very thankful phone calls, and maybe a study room somewhere named after you, if you really want that.

It won’t get your kid admitted though. That’s going to run you in the millions of dollars.

Basically, the scheme here was that the guy was undercutting the universities on price by going down the fraud and tax evasion route. Why donate $10M to Harvard when he could get you the same result for $500k as long as you don’t mind breaking the law?

#14 Comment By Ben H On March 13, 2019 @ 11:06 am

Ok now let me say a word FOR this sort of behavior (I’m against it on moral grounds).

These kids are competing in a pool of applicants which includes a lot of people from Asia who would also have cheated in certain ways, particularly on tests. The advance-by-testing system is ancient there so naturally the the cheating the test system is as well. In addition, Asian cultures tend to have the “it’s ok of you don’t get caught” morality that we increasingly see on display in this country.

I don’t mean to accuse a particular person when I point out that Asian cultures, from the Far East to the Levant, tend to have a different attitude towards the truth that we do. Our ideas about fair play and honesty in competition come from the idea that upper-class Englishmen had that they should be fair in dealing with each other. This is not the assumption of other cultures and it makes us naive in dealing with them. So various people like that Nigeria chef scamming on white guilt, Asian test cheaters and all kinds of financial and business manipulators (from inside our system too) are able to take advantage of the openness of our system which only really works when everyone respects our expectation of fair play.

#15 Comment By Hound of Ulster On March 13, 2019 @ 11:36 am

The inability of a certain sort of ‘conservative’ to not get over their low grade ‘race’ paranoia is something to behold, and utterly self-defeating in the long run.

It ain’t the poor non-white kid from rural Alabama or East Los who kept little Timmy out of the Ivy League, it was the idiot son of the wealthy (disproportionately ‘white’) donor that took his spot…


You need to bring back the high marginal tax rates of the pre-Reagan era, strengthen the hand of trade unions (including representation on the Board of Directors), and massively increase the penalties for cheating on taxes (including asset forfeiture and heavy jail time). All of which taken together will help bring to heel the rapacious greed of our current donor-class elites.

#16 Comment By Locksley On March 13, 2019 @ 12:09 pm

“I love this story so much because, as the best stories always do, it confirms so many of my priors!”

The word ‘prior’, used as a substantive, means the superior in a religious house. Presumably they were all confirmed at a fairly young age. Do you mean ‘priorities’? If so, why not use the right word?

#17 Comment By Another James On March 13, 2019 @ 12:11 pm

It’s perfectly legal (although distasteful) for a university to admit a student in exchange for a donation.

It’s illegal (and distasteful) for the university’s employees to accept money for sneaking a student through the admission process.

That is the difference.

#18 Comment By Isidore the Farmer On March 13, 2019 @ 12:23 pm

Here I am trying to figure out how to make school as inexpensive as possible for our kids, and some people are dumping additional thousands of dollars just to get in the door. Lolz.

Obviously I knew there is cheating on tests, etc. But I thought one bribed schools by becoming boosters in the normal way.

This was one of those stories that reminded me there is an entire level whose existence I am not aware of, and which it would never even occur to me to consider.

Now just imagine the stories the billionaire class has about how they live?

These kinds of stories, while serious, nonetheless make me laugh for days because of how hard they are to relate to.

#19 Comment By Tim B On March 13, 2019 @ 12:34 pm

In defense of Lori Loughlin’s daughter, if she started school the fall of 2018 then she probably already knew when she wrote those statements that she and her parents were under investigation and that her educational future was about to come crashing down. Maybe she didn’t care but the easiest way to deal what was coming was to say “I didn’t care anyway.”

#20 Comment By Not Impressed by Your Credentials On March 13, 2019 @ 1:01 pm

While it’s fun to trash the “progressive” elites who call middle class white people racist for worrying about the effects of affirmative action on their children’s chances of getting into good colleges and universities, all the while knowing they’re greasing the palms of the crew instructor (and is there anything more elitist than crew??), there is a real problem here, and that’s credentialism.

People aren’t clamoring to get their kids into these schools because the beer is better. Everything is about building credentials for future employment. And that’s fine, as far as it goes – there’s nothing wrong with wanting your kid to go to a good school. But what this scheme illustrates is just how high the stakes are.

And the reason for that is that college/university credentials are now the gatekeeper to the elite professions. Many employers might as well hang signs on their doors that say “middle-tier college graduates need not apply.”

It would be one thing if the quality of one’s undergraduate school were a good proxy for the quality of one’s education, skills, work ethic, analytical thinking – or pretty much anything else an employer is looking for. But it’s not.

And in fact, what this scandal shows is that employers should be skeptical about lending too much weight to degrees, because it may well be that a degree from an esteemed school signifies nothing more than the unbridled privilege in which the degree holder grew up.

I’ve seen this at work with an individual we hired. Degrees from great schools. Amazing test scores. The whole nine yards. He’s gotten far on his pedigree, and it’s a good thing, because he’s not getting much farther on his skills or work ethic. We were duped. Others will be as well if all they look at is pedigree.

The more time I spend interacting with people holding college degrees, the more convinced I become that educated people are like dogs: The pedigreed ones tend to not work out, while the muts are often a friend for life.

#21 Comment By Elijah On March 13, 2019 @ 1:55 pm

@ Not Impressed by Your Credentials: a thousand times YES!!

I see so many jobs where a Bachelor’s degree is required even though the actual skills needed have little or nothing to do with higher ed: it’s merely a screening tool. A local public university does this with graduate degrees too, requiring them of job applicants even though they’d be practically useless in Risk Management (for example). In may insurance days, big agencies would hire lawyers, thinking clients would be impressed by the credentials, and they almost never worked out.

I have a colleague in a government agency in Michigan who hired a young high-powered graduate of an Ivy like yours: great grades, amazing test scores, all kinds of accolades. He lasted 6 months before being fired at his probationary review. Why? Every single business the young man reached out to complained that the call or meeting was all about the young man and how great he was.

#22 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 13, 2019 @ 2:51 pm

“In the old days all you had to do was pay for a building on campus to get your sprog admitted… I guess buildings cost too much today..”

Not just the buildings. Tuition at UCLA, a pubic state university, in 1974 was around $200 a quarter for in state students, about $750 for foreign students. My son just informed me that in state resident UCLA tuition is $34,000 for three quarters now. If that’s true, we’re looking at a vast inflation far beyond the cost of anything else,completely unjustified except that it’s now THE ticket without which chances to earn a decent living are much diminished.

#23 Comment By Ernst Schreiber On March 13, 2019 @ 3:04 pm

Erin Manning wrote:

These people’s crime was imitating their betters. The 1% will never forgive any inclination toward upward mobility by those a few steps down the ladder.

Not quite. These people are all of them one percenters. This is the top 20% of the 1% trying to launch their kids into the top 5% of the 1%.

#24 Comment By Professor On March 13, 2019 @ 3:55 pm

I have four degrees from four different universities, but the fifth one that I started at an Ivy League school is the one I never finished–I walked out after one year and never regretted it for an instant. What a joke! Took eight courses over two semesters… and never needed to BUY ONE BOOK. Didn’t learn a damned thing.

The Ivies aren’t about education, at least not any more. They’re about feeling smug and pleased with the superiority which you’re convinced you have over the rest of humanity, those poor little people who can’t get into Ivy League schools because they’re not as brilliant as you are.

I’m the same age as actress Brooke Shields, who got lots of attention not just for taking her clothes off on-camera at age 13, but also for attending Princeton. It took her five years to finish, and some trendy magazine later published her transcripts (with her annotations, “Oh, this class was SO hard!” etc.).

In contrast, I did my undergrad degree at a third-tier rural college, nowhere near so prestigious as Princeton…yet when I saw Brooke’s transcript, I realized that she couldn’t have graduated from my lowly school with such crappy courses and so few credit-hours–because my lowly school was actually more demanding than Princeton.

Decades later, I appreciate that I got a kick-az liberal education at my no-name college, and I pity those Ivy grads whose daddies paid big bucks for nothing but lessons in smugness. Whenever I meet someone who says, “I went to Harvard [or wherever],” I instinctively respond with sincerity, “Oh, I am so sorry!”

#25 Comment By Tim B On March 13, 2019 @ 4:17 pm

I don’t know why elite universities wouldn’t go ahead and create a sliding scale of admission for students from elite families. The lower their academic/ethnic/sociological credentials the more they have to pay. If wealthy parents were willing to go to this extent to get their kids in why not cash in on it?

#26 Comment By TA On March 13, 2019 @ 4:53 pm


Prior or priors is also a term from statistics. Roughly means someones accumulated biases and assumptions based on limited observations to date.

Used more loosely, priors just means “things I generally believe are likely to be true or unsurprising”.

#27 Comment By Stir It Up On March 13, 2019 @ 5:37 pm

“Do you mean ‘priorities’? If so, why not use the right word?”

A Bayesian, perhaps?

#28 Comment By Erin Manning On March 13, 2019 @ 6:14 pm

Ernst Schreiber, I appreciate the correction!

#29 Comment By Yes That Kate On March 13, 2019 @ 6:48 pm

Anyone else find it funny that in the photo of Olivia Jade showing off her dorm room, she is posing next to big light-up letters that say “OJ”? Prior to yesterday there was only one OJ that people associated with criminal activity.

#30 Comment By James Kabala On March 13, 2019 @ 7:26 pm

“It took her five years to finish”

Based on the dates given on Wikipedia (entered 1983, graduated 1987), this appears to not be accurate.

In fact, you can find an analysis of the said transcript here, and (although its overall assessment is not positive) it also refers to four years:


#31 Comment By JeffK On March 14, 2019 @ 8:17 am

@Hound of Ulster says:
March 13, 2019 at 11:36 am

“You need to bring back the high marginal tax rates of the pre-Reagan era, strengthen the hand of trade unions (including representation on the Board of Directors), and massively increase the penalties for cheating on taxes (including asset forfeiture and heavy jail time). All of which taken together will help bring to heel the rapacious greed of our current donor-class elites.”


#32 Comment By JayRodNU On March 14, 2019 @ 11:23 am

I just finished listening to the interview with Jordan Peterson you linked the other day. Near the end he discussed some of his thoughts and efforts to build a parallel/alternative system to the present university system. That’s sounding more and more interesting by the day!

#33 Comment By Sid Finster On March 14, 2019 @ 2:33 pm

Did not Brandeis say that we can have can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both?


#34 Comment By DRK On March 14, 2019 @ 2:43 pm

…Brooke Shields, who got lots of attention not just for taking her clothes off on-camera at age 13

She was only 12 when she was sexually exploited by director Louis Malle and by her own mother. What does this have to do with college transcripts?

It took her five years to finish.

It took her four. She graduated with honors. She’s an odd choice to pick for the point you seem to be making.

If you’re saying it’s possible to take an easy course of study at the Ivies, that’s certainly true, and it’s as true for legacy admissions as for anyone else. The prestige of those degrees is a lot on who you are presumed to know as a result of having attended an Ivy.

I should work up more outrage for this scandal, I guess. These parents falsified their kids’ SATs and resumes; if you’re really rich, you don’t have to go to all that trouble. What these people did was illegal, but morally, it’s not much different than endowing a building so that your dumb kid can get in, which is completely legal — you just need to be very rich indeed. It’s a struggle between the haves and the have mores.

#35 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 15, 2019 @ 12:59 pm

Humorist Stephen Leacock opined that graduation was when you were pronounced “full,” after which no new information could be imparted, and then your head was “capped” to make it official.

These days, an addendum is that you should be pronounced “full of it.”