United States: Federal Government Alleges College Admission Bribery Scheme

Earlier today, hundreds of federal agents effected arrests and announced indictments relating to an alleged massive college admissions bribery scheme involving some of the country's top universities. The investigation, Operation Varsity Blues, has ensnared two Hollywood actresses, Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin, and scores of prominent executives and individuals.

The charging documents allege a conspiracy among a for-profit college counseling and preparation consulting business, college exam administrators, college coaches and athletics administrators, college applicants, and their parents, to facilitate cheating on the SAT and ACT or to facilitate the admissions of students as recruited athletes (thereby significantly increasing their admissions prospects) regardless of their athletic abilities, in order to personally enrich the participants in the scheme.

The government alleges that in exchange for bribes, the defendants – which included coaches, test administrators, and the president of a private tennis camp – either (1) assisted the applicant in cheating on the SAT or ACT by allowing a third party to secretly take the exams on the applicant's behalf, or (2) designated applicants as purported recruits notwithstanding genuine athletic talent or legitimate athletic interest. The bribes were allegedly passed through charitable accounts in order to conceal the wrongdoing, and then distributed to defendants at various levels in the scheme, from exam administrators to college coaches.

Four of the defendants are cooperating with the government, including the principal of the two entities at the heart of the alleged scheme, the Edge College & Career Network, LLC and Key Worldwide Foundation. The informations, indictments, and complaints can be found at the U.S. Attorney's Office's website.

This is an ongoing investigation. As with any investigation, participants in the industry should be aware that additional charges may be forthcoming. Colleges and universities are being portrayed as the victims of the scheme, although certain admissions and recruitment personnel, including coaches, may be subjects of the ongoing investigation. Colleges and universities may be concerned about whether they have been defrauded by any personnel or other impacts of this investigation on their operations, and may wish to consult counsel as to whether to investigate these issues separately.

Colleges and universities also may choose to prepare relevant personnel for how to respond to law enforcement in the event that they are approached with a subpoena or a warrant. As with all investigations, employees should be counseled to comply to the extent required by law, but also be instructed to contact counsel and to politely refrain from making any comments or statements to law enforcement at that time in order to speak with counsel. Any communications with personnel for the purpose of responding to any legal concerns that may arise as a result of the investigation should be clearly defined and/or labeled in order to ensure the broadest possible scope of the attorney client privilege.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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