Varsity Blues: The Perfect Scandal for the Trump Era

BCK FILE--Since last Tuesday, the “college cheating scandal” has been at the top of media (both mainstream and social.) It’s been fodder for both late-night and cable news hosts, as well as a conversation starter around plenty of office water coolers and cocktail parties.

This scandal seems made for television so it’s convenient that two of the parents charged with mail fraud and honest services fraud in Operation Varsity Blues are TV household names. It’s Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous with a hefty dash of Schadenfreude.

If you haven’t been following, William “Rick” Singer turned his “Private Life Coaching and College Consulting Company, business, the Edge College and Career Network, into a $25 million scheme where he charged well-heeled parents hefty fees to get their kids into competitive colleges through “the side door.” Instead of donating a few million for a building that might not necessarily net them admission, he funneled their cash through a phony non-profit to pay off coaches, two entrance-exam administrators, and a college administrator.

Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday to racketeering conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice for. So far, 31 CEOs, senior executives, doctors, lawyers have joined the two actresses charged, along with those who accepted bribes. The scandal allegedly included bribing coaches to consider non-athletes “athletic recruits” and SAT or ACT exam proctors to boost the kids’ scores. Singer allegedly hired 36-year old Harvard grad Mark Riddell who was paid to take ACT and SAT tests for $10,000 a pop. Riddell has been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering.

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, designer Massimo Giannulli allegedly paid half a million to have their daughters recruited for the USC crew team members, though neither had ever rowed. Actress Felicity Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 for a proctor Singer hired to stay in the room with her daughter as she took the SAT. Other parents paid up to $6.5 million for services that included using software to insert the students’ heads on stock photos of athletes, having SAT exam answers corrected before the students turned in the tests, and getting therapists to sign off to get students extra test time, as well as bribing coaches to pave the way for acceptance to Stanford, the USC, UCLA, UCSD, University of Texas, Wake Forest, Yale, and Georgetown. Two Stanford students, Erica Olsen and Kalea Woods, have filed a class action suit that could include an estimated 1 million who claim to have been denied admittance because of the bribery scheme.

The College Cheating Scandal is the perfect scandal for the Trump era. There’s a dash of celebrity with a healthy dose of cheating and entitled arrogance that mirrors Trump and a good number of people from his campaign, administration, and family. Jared Kushner allegedly netted a Harvard admission after his father donated $2 million. The Trump administration is replete with millionaires and billionaires who have exploited taxpayers for air transportation and ridiculously expensive office furniture. President Trump’s foundation has been the target of investigations for misusing funds for campaign and personal expenses.

The Varsity Blues Scandal is a much-needed reminder that, despite the goings-on of Trump World, cheaters ultimately do not win.

(Beth Cone Kramer is a professional writer living in the Los Angeles area. She covers Resistance Watch and other major issues for CityWatch.)