What happened to the main figures in Operation Varsity Blues, the 2019 college admissions scandal?

What happened to the main figures in Operation Varsity Blues, the 2019 college admissions scandal?
Source: Brian Snyder, Reuters
While many people were rapt by the case as it initially unfolded, the trials and eventual convictions dragged on for months. Here is where many of the players in the college admissions scandal ended up.

In March 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation unsealed an indictment that revealed a far-ranging conspiracy related to the admission of students to some of the United States’ most prestigious universities. It was a juicy story of the wealthy abusing their privilege, made all the more enticing to the public because it involved an Oscar-nominated actress and a beloved television star.

The scandal, which had been code named “Operation Varsity Blues” by the FBI, revealed an entire system of bribes and scams spearheaded by William Singer, a man who had billed himself as an education consultant.

The FBI initially charged 50 people with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud, including Singer, Felicity Huffman, who was nominated for an Academy Award in 2006 for her starring role in Transamerica, and Lori Loughlin, who at the time was appearing in Fuller House, the Netflix revival of the popular 90s sitcom, Full House. Singer and some others were also charged with money laundering.

On March 1, Netflix released the trailer for “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal,” its upcoming documentary on the whole affair set to release on March 17. The film will intersperse talking head interviews with re-enactments of FBI wiretapped phone calls between Singer and his clients.

The Operation Varsity Blues Netflix documentary is sure to reignite interest in the now two-year-old scandal as it reveals aspects of the story that people may not have previously known. While many people were rapt by the case as it initially unfolded, the trials and eventual convictions dragged on for months. Here is where many of the players in the college admissions scandal ended up.

What happened to William Singer?

William “Rick” Singer and his organization, The Key Worldwide Foundation, ran the entire scam, not only helping to facilitate payments between parents and university officials, but also creating fake biographies for the students and even Photoshopping images of students to go along with those fraudulent back stories. He also arranged for people to take college admission tests, such as the ACT and SAT, for the students.

Singer faced multiple charges: racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the US and obstruction of justice. He pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.

The government’s recommended sentence for Singer was incarceration at the low end of the guideline’s sentencing range, three years of supervised release and a fine and forfeiture of his illegally obtained money. Singer has yet to be sentenced for his role in the college admissions scandal and, at this point, a hearing is not scheduled.

The California-based Singer spent the first half of 2020 studying to earn a doctorate in psychology from Grand Canyon University, which is located in Phoenix, Arizona. However, in July 2020, GCU said Singer was no longer enrolled with the school.

What happened to the college officials?

Singer’s actions didn’t just ensnare the wealthy parents of prospective college students, it also destroyed many people’s faith in universities.

The scandal brought down Yale’s respected women’s soccer coach, Rudy Meredith, who accepted bribes to add a student on his team, Stanford’s sailing coach, John Vandemoer, who had likewise been paid to add students to his team, and Harvard alumnus Mark Riddell, who took college entrance exams for students.

Meredith pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, and honest services wire fraud. The government’s recommended sentence was the same as Singer’s, though, like Singer, he has not been sentenced and a sentencing hearing has not been set.

Vandemoer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. He was sentenced in June 2019 and served one day in prison. He is currently serving out two years of supervised release and has to pay a US$10,000 fine.

Riddell pleaded guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. His recommended sentence is the same as Meredith and Singer’s. His sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for April 15.

What happened to Felicity Huffman?

In addition to starring in “Transamerica,” Felicity Huffman was a lead on the long-running ABC drama “Desperate Housewives” and appeared in Netflix’s critically acclaimed 2019 miniseries “When They See Us.” Though Huffman had two films released in 2019, her arrest and subsequent guilty plea in the college admissions scandal has stalled her acting career for the last two years.

Huffman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and was sentenced on September 13, 2019. Though the government had recommended a month prison sentence, she was sentenced to 14 days, of which she served only 11. She was also sentenced to one year of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a fine of US$30,000.

Her husband, Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy, was not charged with any crimes related to Operation Varsity Blues, though he is alleged to have been in on the scheme to pay US$15,000 for Singer’s associate to take a college admission test for their daughter.

What happened to Lori Loughlin?

Lori Loughlin was best known for playing the role of Aunt Rebecca Donaldson-Katsopolis on the ABC network’s “Full House,” a sitcom that ran from 1987 to 1995. After that show ended, Loughlin worked steadily over the subsequent decades in TV series and made-for-TV movies. At the time of her arrest, she was reprising her Aunt Becky character for the Netflix reboot, “Fuller House.”

Surprising many, Loughlin, along with her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, originally did not plead guilty to the charges against her, which were conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. The couple had vowed to fight the charges, but their fight did not last long. In May 2020, both pleaded guilty.

Perhaps as a result of initially refusing to plead guilty, the government recommended a harsher sentence for both. Loughlin’s recommended sentence was two months in prison, two years of supervised release, a US$150,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. When she was sentenced in August 2020, she received the exact recommended sentence. She served the full prison sentence.

Giannulli, a fashion designer who was also sentenced in August, received a harsher sentence. Per the government’s recommendations, he was sentenced to five months in prison, two years of supervised release, a US$250,000 fine and 250 hours of community service. Giuliani is currently still in prison.

The couple had been arrested because they paid US$500,000 to Singer to have their daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Rose Giannulli, designated as crew team members at the University of Southern California (USC). Since the scandal, Olivia has remained active on social media as an influencer, while her older sister, Isabella, has focused on her budding acting career.

What happened to the other parents in the college admissions scandal?

While the other parents caught up in Operation Varsity Blues weren’t as famous, they were by and large all successful business figures. Most have pleaded guilty to their various charges, receiving prison sentences between a few weeks up to nine months. Those who have received sentences have also been fined between US$9,500 and US$750,000 and been required to do community service.

There are still countless charged individuals who are awaiting trial or sentencing, including some who did not plead guilty.

One of the fathers caught in the scandal, Robert Zangrillo, was among those pardoned by former President Donald Trump on his final day in the White House. Zangrillo, who is a Miami, Florida-based private investor, had worked with Singer on a scheme similar to that of Loughlin and Giannulli to get his daughter into USC.

It isn’t clear why Trump chose to pardon Zangrillo, though in a statement, the former president referred to Zangrillo as “a well-respected business leader and philanthropist.”

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