'Be stupid': These are the most outrageous details in the college admission cheating investigation

'Be stupid': These are the most outrageous details in the college admission cheating investigation
Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1331587679 LOS ANGELES - FEB 28: Olivia Jade Giannulli, Lori Loughlin and Isabella Rose Giannulli arrives to "An Unforgettable Evening" on February 28, 2019 in Hollywood, CA - Image

It became clear almost instantly that the college admissions scam, also known as Operation Varsity Blues, went beyond the usual tactics rich people rely on to get their unqualified children into top schools. These weren't cases of legacy admission — a scam in itself — and as Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said, "We're not talking about donating a building so that a school is more likely to take your son or daughter. . . We're talking about deception and fraud."


Federal prosecutors charged 50 people in the "largest college admissions scam" that the Department of Justice has ever uncovered, among them, actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, as well as dozens of other wealthy parents, multiple ACT/SAT administrators, nine athletic coaches and several others. The "large-scale, elaborate fraud" focused on admission into elite schools like Yale, USC, Georgetown, Stanford, the University of Texas, and UCLA, according to the FBI.

William Singer is at the center of the scandal, founder of the college preparatory business called the Edge College & Career Network, and referred to as The Key. Parents paid Mr. Singer about $25 million from 2011 until February 2019 to bribe coaches and university administrators to designate their children as recruited athletes, which effectively ensured their admission, according to the indictment," the New York Times reported.

The unsealed affidavit reveals in elaborate detail how this scheme operated for almost a decade, the enormous price tag of it all, and as my colleague Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote, the myth of meritocracy and the conflation of wealth with intellect.

Here are the most bizarre revelations, per the court documents:

1. Parents were instructed to lie and say their kids had learning disabilities

The person referred to in the affidavit as "cooperating witness-1" allegedly told parents to secure extra time for their kids to take standardized college entrance exams by falsely claiming that their children had learning disabilities and to obtain the needed medical documentation to do so. Then, the students would be given accommodations to take the test in an "individualized setting," sometimes over two days and with only a proctor. CW-1 also told the parents to have their kids take the required entrance exams at one of two locations that he "controlled" and where administrators could be bribed.

From CW-1 via the court documents: "So here's what we need to do. And I think I mentioned this to your wife. We need to get your daughter tested for a learning difference, and let's say it's my person that does it, or whoever you want to do it, I need that person to get her 100% extended time over multiple days. So what that means is, we'll have to show that there's some discrepancies in her learning, which there's gotta be anyways. And if she gets 100%, Gordon, then, I own two schools. I can have her test at one of my schools, and I can guarantee her a score."

The report shows CW-1 telling at least one parent to tell their daughter "to be stupid" when getting evaluated. "I also need to tell [your daughter] when she gets tested, to be as, to be stupid, not to be as smart as she is," they said. "The goal is to be slow, to be not as bright, all that, so we show discrepancies."

2. Cheating on the college entrance exams

The court documents allege there were several ways parents cheated when it came to the actual test-taking of the ACT and/or SATs and in order to get their kids better scores: test administrators were bribed, and stand-ins were paid to take the exams for the students; someone would help the student take the test, giving them the answers; or a proctor would correct their answers after the student had taken it. Parents paid between $15,000 and $75,000 for these services. "We've been doing this for a long time," CW-1 told a parent.

3. Forging handwriting for the essay portion of the exam

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