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Parent who paid $450,000 bribe in college admission cheating scandal pleads guilty

Toby MacFarlane left federal court in Boston after an appearance there in April.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

A wealthy California parent who ponied up $450,000 in bribes to get his two children into USC with fake athletic credentials as part of the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal pleaded guilty Friday.

Toby MacFarlane, 56, of Del Mar, Calif., pleaded guilty in US District Court in Boston to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office said in a statement.

Lawyers for MacFarlane, a former senior executive at a title insurance company, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Prosecutors said MacFarlane paid the six-figure bribes to get his daughter and son admitted to USC as phony sports recruits.

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MacFarlane is one of 50 people charged in the brazen scheme, in which parents cut checks to the admitted ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, to get their children into fancy schools by having them falsely classified as athletic recruits, or by facilitating cheating on college entrance exams.

About 20 defendants have pleaded guilty so far in the sprawling probe that exploded into the headlines in March, ensnaring Hollywood stars and top executives and sparking heated debates about class privilege in higher education.

According to court records, MacFarlane’s daughter’s 2013 application to USC falsely stated she was a “US Club Soccer All American” in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. His son was presented to a USC subcommittee in January 2017 as a bogus basketball recruit, records show.

Neither child ever suited up for the Trojans on the soccer field or the hardwood. MacFarlane’s daughter graduated from USC in 2018, while his son attended the selective school briefly but withdrew in May 2018, legal filings show.

Other parents charged in the bombshell case include the actresses Felicity Huffman, best known for critically acclaimed roles in the film “Transamerica” and the TV series “Desperate Housewives,” and Lori Loughlin, whose scene-stealing portrayal of Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House” made her a pop culture icon.

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Huffman tearfully pleaded guilty in May to conspiring with a college counselor to inflate her daughter’s SAT scores.

Loughlin, who’s accused with her fashion designer husband of paying bribes totaling $500,000 to have their daughters fraudulently designated as crew recruits to gain admission to USC, has pleaded not guilty. Her case remains pending.

A plea agreement in MacFarlane’s case says he faces up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors will recommend 15 months in the slammer, as well as a $95,000 fine and a separate restitution payment “in an amount to be determined” by the court.

He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 13.


Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.