Two Stanford University students have sued The Key Worldwide Foundation; The Edge College & Career Network, known as “The Key”; the entities’ founder, William Singer; and a host of top-tier universities over the alleged actions of parents, test administrators, and school employees who, through a complexly layered framework of bribery and fraud, gamed the college admissions process so that the children of well-to-do parents could gain admission into highly selective universities.
According to the 30-page racketeering lawsuit out of California, the coordinated fraud and bribery among the defendants resulted in unqualified students finding their way into upper-echelon U.S. universities “while students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission.”
You mean to tell me there’s shady stuff going on in the college admissions process?
I know, right? BIG IF TRUE.
Who are the players in the scheme?
The lawsuit revolves around two college-admissions schemes – one involving apparent test cheating and the other phony student-athlete recruitment – coordinated between three groups of individuals. So before we dive in, let’s get to know some of the pieces on the chess board.
The first group, the complaint says, is made up of parents whose college-aged children had insufficient test scores and other inadequate credentials that stood in their way of admission to highly selective universities. These folks, as the lawsuit tells it, believed beyond reason that they could “bribe their child’s way through the college admissions door.”
Next, we have defendant William “Rick” Singer, who’s pegged in the lawsuit as “a California con-man,” and his companies, the Sacramento-based so-called college admissions-mentoring outfit dubbed The Key and fraudulent charitable foundation called The Key Worldwide Foundation. Through these entities, Singer, the case charges, was able to pull in boatloads of money from parents looking to push their children through to desirable colleges.
Lastly, there are the individuals within the college admissions pipeline, the employees—university representatives, coaches, and standardized test administrators—who the case emphasizes were charged with keeping the college admissions process honest. These people were the ones who were willing to accept bribes in order for unqualified applicants to gain admission to the defendant universities.
Imposters, Corrections: The Test Cheating Scam
This facet of the grift allegedly involved parents forking over “hefty sums” to Singer or his supposed charity in exchange for “imposters to pose as the students and take their college entrance examinations (ACT or SAT) for them.” In other instances, the complaint continues, Singer apparently paid off test administrators to correct students’ answers after they had completed the tests. In a typical scenario, according to the suit, Singer would counsel parents to seek extended time for their children for exams, which was sometimes accomplished by “having their children fake learning disabilities in order to obtain [the] medical documentation” that the ACT and College Board requires.
In case you’re wondering how much it costs to scheme your child’s way into a choice institution of higher learning by way of fraudulent test taking, the lawsuit states parents “generally paid Singer between $15,000 and $75,000 per test,” with payments typically structured as “purported donations” to Singer’s foundation. The bribes would then apparently go from Singer to test administrators.
Sure, I played water polo in high school: The Student-Athlete Recruitment Scam
Here, parents would pay Singer, The Key, or his charity big bucks in exchange for the creation of a bogus sports profile to make it seem as though a student was a superior athlete in a particular high school sport. Then, Singer, the lawsuit says, would bribe university employees, typically coaches or managers in an athletic department, to insert the student into a set-aside “slot” reserved for students to be admitted due to their proficiency in certain sports.
As a result of both of these coordinated fraudulent bribery schemes, conducted through wire and mail fraud, unqualified students found their way into the admissions rolls of highly selective universities, while those students who played by the rules and did not have college-bribing parents were denied admission.”
Who are the university defendants? What does the lawsuit allege their role was in all this?
The highly selective University of Southern California (USC), Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University, Yale and Georgetown University are all named as defendants in the proposed class action alongside Singer and his organizations.
For their alleged part in the grift, the institutions, according to the lawsuit, were more than willing to accept students’ admission application fees while failing to take adequate steps toward ensuring their admission processes were fair and free of fraud, bribery, cheating, and dishonesty. At the employee level, the university defendants, the suit continues, were negligent in their failure to guarantee that their own faculty would not engage in any sort of bribery scheme.
The group most harmed by the university defendants’ conduct, the lawsuit stresses, are rejected students, each of whom paid college admission application fees to the institutions while other, more financially privileged students were “slipping through the back door of the admissions process” by way of fraud and bribery.
Who does the lawsuit look to cover?
The plaintiffs ask the court to certify a class of individuals who, between 2012 and 2018, applied to UCLA, USC, the University of San Diego, Stanford, the University of Texas at Austin, Wake Forest University, Georgetown or Yale, paid an admission application fee to one or more of the schools, and were denied admission.