Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin

Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images for EMILY'S List, Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images

Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman Indicted in Alleged College Admissions Bribery Scheme

March 12, 2019

By Scott Gelman

More than 40 people, including well-known actresses, wealthy business executives and athletic coaches, have been charged in a national scheme aimed at helping students cheat on college entrance exams and admitting students to top schools as purported athletic recruits.

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were named in the indictment, as was former Georgetown men’s and women’s university tennis coach Gordie Ernst, according to court documents. The documents were unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Boston.

Dating back to 2011, the defendants used “bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children’s admission to colleges and universities in the District of Massachusetts and elsewhere,” officials said.

Some of the defendants are accused of bribing college entrance exam administrators to help students cheat on the tests, either by allowing a different student to take the exam, giving students answers during exams or correcting student answers after they had finished the exams.

Others are accused of requesting prospective recruits be admitted to certain universities as student-athletes regardless of their athletic abilities or whether they played the sport they were recruited to play, officials said.

“Make no mistake this is not a case where parents were acting in the best interests of their children," FBI Special Agent Joseph Bonavolonta said. "This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparring no expense, to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy, literally."

Loughlin, known for her role on "Full House," and her husband allegedly paid $500,000 in bribes in exchange for their two daughters being named recruits for the University of Southern California’s crew team. The daughters didn’t participate in crew but were admitted to USC, court documents indicate.

In response to an email Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, sent after meeting with their daughter’s college counselor, an unnamed recipient said “If you want [U]SC I have the game plan ready to go into motion. Call me to discuss.”

Part of the money was sent to USC Senior Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel.

USC said it's conducting an internal investigation and "will take employment actions as appropriate."

Huffman, who appeared on “Desperate Housewives,” allegedly donated $15,000 to the Key Worldwide Foundation to be a part of the scheme. The foundation is a California-based non-profit that is exempt from paying federal income tax.

An unidentified person involved told Huffman he would have someone correct her daughter’s SAT exam answers after she completed the test.The indictment says her daughter’s score was 400 points higher than her PSAT result.

Huffman intended to make similar accommodations for her other daughter but then decided not to do so, officials said.

"Today’s arrests resulting from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts send a clear message that those who facilitate cheating on the SAT – regardless of their income or status – will be held accountable," a College Board spokesman told WIAD. "The College Board has a comprehensive, robust approach to combat cheating, and we work closely with law enforcement as part of those efforts."

ACT said in a statement that it "commends the actions taken by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts and other law enforcement units to investigate and uncover these unlawful activities by several individuals."

Ernst, now the women’s tennis coach at Rhode Island, is accused of taking $2.7 million worth of bribes in exchange for his recruiting efforts.

Ernst identified at least 12 Georgetown applicants as tennis recruits, including some who didn’t play competitive tennis. The applicants were therefore admitted to Georgetown.

"Ernst has not coached our tennis team since December 2017, following an internal investigation that found he had violated University rules concerning admissions," Georgetown said in a statement. "Georgetown cooperated fully with the government’s investigation. We are reviewing the details of the indictment and will take appropriate action."

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