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College scandal leads to fraud and conspiracy charges

The college admissions scandal has resulted in unprecedented – and extremely serious – felony charges. “Operation Varsity Blues” led to grand jury indictments of dozens of parents, coaches and administrators across the country.

Rich parents buying their kids’ way into elite schools is hardly new – why is it suddenly a federal offense? Will “Aunt Becky” and other jet-setter defendants really go to jail? Let’s take a closer look at the criminal charges.

Honest services fraud? Money laundering?

The scandal broke on March 12 when the Justice Department issued arrest warrants for dozens of parents, several college coaches and other individuals. Millions of dollars in bribes allegedly changed hands to get high school seniors accepted into prestigious universities including Harvard, Yale and Stanford.

The various schemes included cheating on SAT and ACT exams, faking athletic credentials, and funneling bribes through a phony charity. As the tawdry tales unfolded, no one was shocked that wealthy parents would use their money and influence to get Junior or Missy into the school of their choice. The surprising part was that it resulted in major criminal charges commonly associated with organized crime:

Round Two brought additional felony charges

About a dozen of the accused entered plea agreements, including actress Felicity Huffman, who allegedly paid a $15,000 bribe to falsify her daughter’s SAT score. Since then, the DOJ has upped the ante on the remaining defendants. A new superseding indictment on April 9 added two very serious counts to the existing charges:

Plead guilty or fight the charges?

TV actress Lori Laughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli are among the defendants facing expanded charges after passing up plea deals. Because of the multiple offenses and the magnitude of their alleged fraud ($500,000), prosecutors are seeking prison time. These are the wrenching choices that must be weighed, in consultation with a defense lawyer, when considering whether to negotiate a plea or take one’s chances at trial.