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How actresses Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin were allegedly tied to college bribery scam

Feds allege nationwide college admissions bribery, cheating plot.
Feds allege nationwide college admissions bribery, cheating plot.

The dozens of defendants ensnared in the nationwide college admissions bribery case playing out in federal court in Boston include Hollywood stars Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, according to federal prosecutors.

The actresses are each charged criminally in Boston in connection with the massive probe.

Loughlin and Huffman were named as clients of the scheme’s alleged ringleader, William “Rick Singer,” who pleaded guilty Tuesday in US District Court in Boston to felony charges stemming from the con. Singer faces sentencing June 19.

Loughlin is best known for her roles in the TV shows “Full House,” “Fuller House,” and “Beverly Hills 90210,” while Huffman is best known for her roles in the TV show “Desperate Housewives” and the movie “Transamerica.”

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Huffman and her spouse engaged Singer to improve the results of one of her daughters on standardized testing scheduled for December 2017, ultimately paying $15,000 to a bogus charity Singer operated as part of the “college entrance exam cheating scheme,” according to an affidavit by an FBI agent filed in court.

Huffman allegedly interacted with a person described in the affidavit with someone described as “Cooperating Witness-1.” Prosecutors revealed Tuesday in court that the witness was Singer himself.

Before the December 2017 SAT, Huffman and her spouse allegedly agreed to a plan that would arrange for their daughter to take the standardized test at a location controlled by Singer where a Singer ally — Cooperating Witness-2 (CW-2) — would proctor the test and could “secretly correct her answers afterwards.”

At the instruction of Singer, Huffman obtained permission from the College Board to allow her daughter a 100 percent increase in the test-taking time. Huffman alerted her daughter’s high school guidance counselor about the change — leading the counselor to unwittingly disrupt the plans, according to the FBI agent’s affidavit.

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The counselor noted that Huffman’s daughter would have to take the test at her high school and the guidance counselor would be the proctor.

“Ruh Ro!’’ Huffman wrote to Singer, according to the court filing. “Looks like [my daughter’s school] wants to provide their own proctor.”

At the instruction of Singer, Huffman notified the school that her daughter would be taking the test at the West Hollywood Test Center on the weekend so she would not miss any school. According to the court filing, CW-2 flew from Tampa to Los Angeles, where he proctored the exam attended by Huffman’s daughter on Dec. 2, 2017 — and secretly changed her answers.

“Ultimately, Huffman’s daughter received a score of 1420 on the SAT, an improvement of 400 points over her PSAT” when she took it without help one year earlier, the court filing said.

The man identified as CW-2 was allegedly paid $35,000 by Singer for falsifying the test results for Huffman’s daughter and several other Singer clients. Singer also allegedly paid a bribe to the administrator of the test center

Huffman and her spouse later talked with Singer about scamming the test results for their younger daughter, whom Huffman described as “academically driven.” They agreed to pay $15,000 to get her SAT scores near the 1600 range so her daughter would qualify for “places like” Georgetown University, the court filing said.

“Ultimately, Huffman and her spouse decided not to pursue the SAT cheating scheme for their younger daughter,’’ the court filing said. The filing did not explain the reason for the change in plans.

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Singer’s schemes also allegedly included having replacement test takers take SAT and ACT entrance exams for children of clients.

The clients would funnel payments to Singer’s sham charity, Key Worldwide Foundation, to mask the fact that the funds were bribes, prosecutors said.

In Loughlin’s case, she and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team, even though the daughters did not row crew.

Athletic recruits had a better chance of getting accepted than applicants with similar grades and test scores who weren’t recruits, prosecutors said.

In April 2016, Giannulli e-mailed Singer, unaware that he was a cooperating witness, and copied Loughlin on the message, writing, “We just met with [our older daughter’s] college counselor this am,” according to the court filing. “I’d like to maybe sit with you after your session with the girls as I have some concerns and want to fully understand the game plan and make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!”

Singer responded, “If you want [U]SC I have the game plan ready to go into motion. Call me to discuss.” The couple later agreed to use bribes to get their daughter into USC, the court filing said.

Several months later, Giannulli sent Singer a photograph of his daughter on an ergometer, an exercise machine for rowing. On Oct. 27, 2016, the daughter was presented to a USC subcommittee for athletic admissions as a purported crew recruit, the court filing said.

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The subcommittee approved her conditional admission to USC.

Two days later, the court filing said, Singer e-mailed Giannulli, directing him to send a $50,000 payment to USC’s senior women’s associate athletic director.

On Nov. 1, 2016, Giannulli allegedly e-mailed Singer to ask whether he should mention his daughter’s application when he saw USC’s athletic director during an upcoming trip.

Singer responded that it was best not to mention anything, writing, “When I met with [the athletic director] a year ago about [your daughter] he felt you were good for a million plus,” the court filing said.

Giannulli allegedly replied, “HAH!”

In March 2017, Giannulli and Loughlin’s daughter received her formal acceptance letter, and the following week, the couple received an invoice from Singer’s charitable foundation for $200,000, the court filing said.

The invoice allegedly said, “Thank you for your pledge to The Key Worldwide Foundation. Your pledge is now due . . . Our receipt letter will go out to you upon full payment.”

Giannulli responded, “Again thanks for all. We are currently on holiday in the Bahamas but will gladly handle this when home next week,” the court filing said. He wired $200,000 to Key Worldwide on April 10, 2017.

On the same day, he copied Loughlin on an e-mail he sent to the Singer with the subject heading “Trojan Happiness,” a reference to USC’s mascot, the court filing said.

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“I wanted to thank you again for your great work with [our older daughter],” Giannulli allegedly wrote. “[S]he is very excited and both Lori and I are very appreciative of your efforts and end result!”

When Singer replied that the couple should indicate whether they wanted similar assistance for their younger daughter, Loughlin wrote, “Yes USC for [our younger daughter]!” and Giannulli wrote, “Yes [our younger daughter] as well,” the court filing said.

In July 2017, Singer indicated that he would falsely present the couple’s younger daughter as a member of the L.A. Marina Club crew team. And four days later, Singer allegedly told Giannulli in an e-mail, “If we want USC I will need a transcript, test scores, and picture on the ERG,” a reference to the exercise machine for rowers.

Loughlin replied via e-mail and copied her husband, writing, “Moss will get this done. We are back in town on Monday,” the court filing said.

Then on July 28, 2017, Giannulli allegedly e-mailed Singer a photo of their younger daughter on the ergometer rowing machine, with a copy to his wife. The younger daughter was presented to a USC subcommittee for athletic admissions on Nov. 2, 2017, and she was conditionally accepted.

Less than two weeks later, Singer wrote the Giannullis with the conditional acceptance letter attached, congratulating them, the court filing said.

Loughlin wrote Singer, “This is wonderful news! [High-Five emoji],” the court filing said. Singer wrote back, “Please continue to keep hush hush till March,” and Loughlin replied, “Yes of course.”

The couple was later directed to send a $50,000 check to the same senior women’s associate athletic director, as well as a $200,000 check to Singer’s sham foundation, the court filing said.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.