Originally published March 17, 2019
By Barrington Salmon
UPDATED ON SEPT. 13, 2019: Desperate Housewivesstar Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT scores. The actress was also ordered by a federal judge to pay a fine of $30,000 and perform 250 hours of community service.
The revelation that parents gamed the system by paying up to seven figures to get their children into elite colleges has many African Americans fuming.
On March 12, federal investigators announced 50 high-profile individuals, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were charged in a scheme that involved changing college entrance test results, hiring proctors to take exams for children and superimposing their kids’ faces onto pictures of real student athletes, to guarantee college admission through athletics programs.
African American Reaction
Some prominent African Americans view the case as affirmative action for the rich and yet another example of white privilege.
“This is a question of a deeper revelation of the extent to which white privilege and white supremacy are institutionalized in every fabric of American society, including higher education,” Rev. Benjamin Chavis, Jr., a longtime civil rights activist and president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, told Urban Hollywood 411.
“The rich have one standard of education and everyone else has another standard,” Chavis added. “This inequity isn’t just about wealth, it’s about race, ethnicity, culture and history.”
Chavis believes systematic racism made the scam possible.
“Those involved are embarrassed but will never acknowledge the longstanding history of racism that made their actions possible,” he said.
Federal officials said 33 parents paid amounts ranging from thousands of dollars to $6.5 million to get their children into top colleges, including Georgetown University, Stanford University, UCLA, the University of San Diego, USC, the University of Texas, Wake Forest, and Yale.
According to the 204-page indictment, Full Houseactress Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli — whose Mossimo brand was once a staple at Target stores — paid bribes totaling $500,000 to have their daughters pose as recruits for USC’s crew team, even though they never participated in the sport.
Huffman and her husband, Shameless actor William H. Macy, allegedly paid California-based Edge College & Career Network — run by businessman William Rick Singer — “a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 … to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter,” court documents state.
The bribe allegedly afforded the couple’s daughter unlimited time to take the SAT, and she was given a private proctor who allegedly corrected her answers after the test. Macy was not charged.
Charlottesville, Virginia entertainment attorney Elva Mason said many people view the scheme as a “huge injustice.”
“The overwhelming response is people asking if we all didn’t know this was going on. We just didn’t know the levels, the extent of how far people were willing to go to get an edge,” said Mason, who graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA) and the UVA Law School. “It’s galling for people to see students work hard to get something and a lesser person gets the job or the slot.”
“White privilege has always been here and isn’t going away,” Mason added.
Among those charged are business leaders, college coaches, administrators and CEOS, including Gordon Caplan, co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher; Manuel A. Henriquez who is co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Hercules Technology Growth Capital; Gamal Abdelaziz, former President and COO of Wynn Resorts; and Elisabeth Kimmel, former owner of KFMB television and radio stations in San Diego.
Hernandez stepped down, and Loughlin was dropped from her recurring role on Netflix’s Full House reboot, Fuller House. The Hallmark Channel, where the actress starred in the series When Calls the Heart and in the Garage Sale Mystery TV movies, also cut ties with her.
“We are saddened by the recent news surrounding the college admissions allegations,” Hallmark parent company Crown Media said in a statement. “We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin.”
Meanwhile, several companies — including Sephora and TRESemmé — ended partnerships with Loughlin’s 19-year-old daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, who is a USC freshman, as well as a YouTube star and paid influencer.
Ringleader Pleads Guilty
Fixer-consultant Singer pleaded guilty in Boston federal court on Tuesday to money laundering, racketeering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Federal officials said Singer accepted $25 million in bribes from parents between 2011 and 2018.
Officials said Singer acted as a corroborating witness in the investigation called Operation Varsity Blues, and wore a wire to record conversations with parents and other accomplices involved in the scam.
Much of the anger Black people feel is because of the scrutiny African-Americans routinely face in pursuit of higher education, and the obvious disparities in the sentences handed out to Black parents who have tried to give their children a leg up.
For example, Kelley Williams-Bolar was convicted of a felony in Ohio in 2011, for falsifying the home address for her two children so they could go to school in a better district. More recently, Florida high school student Kamilah Campbell has been fighting SAT officials who claim she improved her score too much –- without help –- and refused to validate her test results until she could prove she didn’t cheat.
Former Florida A&M University Law Professor Cori Harvey said Black students face a number of challenges, particularly when they attend predominantly white universities.
“Every black person at a white school has been asked some version of how did they get in, when they know that they (white students) got in because their father got them in,” Harvey said with a wry chuckle. “I think of it in terms of property rights. If a fair shot of getting into college is a property right -– we all have fair shot –- but it can be stolen from you, which is basically what they’re doing.”
The extremely competitive nature of elite schools and the handful of students admitted each year ultimately leads to cheating from elementary school up, said Harvey, a consultant and former criminal attorney who specializes in business and property law.
Judy Leak Bowers said she’s disgusted by what she’s heard but knows the perpetrators will probably get off with a slap on the hand.
“If that was Howard, Hampton, or Tuskegee, they would have closed them down. This is white privilege in every aspect of their lives — honest and dishonest — but they never suffer equitable consequences,” said Bowers, a master teacher who has been in the classroom for more than 20 years.
“This has been going on for eons. The whole set up is for them to succeed,” Bowers added. “This was a cadre of people involved in a conspiracy. A team of people were laundering money, lying, cheating and stealing.”