The intersecting worlds of celebrity, extreme wealth, and higher education have been cleaved open by a recent federal indictment alleging a massive bribing scheme around college admissions. In the unsealed court documents, federal prosecutors lay out an illegal operation involving celebrities, CEOs, and top college athletic coaches—50 people total—who they say brazenly lied to elite universities and colleges to secure admissions for their already privileged children.
At its heart, the admissions ruse centered around William Singer, the founder of a college preparatory business called the Edge College & Career Network, also known as the Key. Singer used the Key, alongside a bogus non-profit called Key Worldwide Foundation, to funnel bribes to coaches who would lie about the athletic qualifications of prospective students. Singer also helped students cheat on tests like the ACT and SAT—oftentimes without their knowledge—by bribing exam proctors who would give students answers or correct their tests after they had finished. (He pleaded guilty to multiple charges in federal court on Tuesday.)
In September 2018, Singer began cooperating with the federal investigation, referred to as “Operation: Varsity Blues,” providing investigators with emails and phone calls with his patrician clients. The records of these interactions, all unsealed in the indictment, reveal a world of astounding privilege.
Los Angeles, no stranger to celebrity, wealth, or scandals, is home to nine of the 33 parents named in the indictment. They represent a cross section of the city’s one percent, from developers to actors to a guy who works with water.
Here is the complete guide to L.A.’s own alleged college-scam colluders, as detailed in the 204-page indictment.
Jane Buckingham is an author and the founder of the boutique marketing agency Trendera, which serves clients including Target, Nickelodeon, Hearst, Stubhub, and Hilton Worldwide. Her daughter is actress Lilia Buckingham, who has an Instagram following of 1.4 million. She also has a son.
Jane, well followed on Instagram in her own right, posted a graphic in May that read, “DONT CHEAT,” writing in the caption, “Apply it to all aspects of life and you’ll probably be ok,” according to Boing Boing (her account is now private). In an exchange with Singer, she expressed her frustration with the process, saying, “I know this is craziness, I know it is. And then I need you to get him into USC, and then I need you to cure cancer and [make peace] in the Middle East.”
Possibly flirting (and supposedly aware that their conversation was being recorded), Singer responded, “I can do that if you can figure out a way to boot your husband out so that he treats you well.”
“That’s impossible,” Buckingham replied. “But, you know, peace in the Middle East.”
Robert Flaxman is a graduate of the University of Southern California and the chief executive of Crown Realty & Development Inc. According to the charging documents, when Flaxman asked Singer about the purpose of one of the payments, Singer replied, “The reason for the payments were to, essentially—We won’t say that it went to pay for [your son] to get into USD. We’ll say that the payments were made to our foundation to help kids—underserved kids.”
Mossimo Giannulli is a fashion designer whose name became a house brand at Target and his wife, Lori Loughlin is an actor best known for playing Aunt Becky on the sitcom Full House and its more recent Netflix spinoff Fuller House. The two are alleged to have paid bribes totaling $500,000 to get their two influencer daughters accepted to USC as “recruits to the USC crew team—despite the fact that they did not participate in crew.”
At the beginning of the process with Singer, documents show that Giannulli wrote that he wanted to “make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!”
One daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, who has almost two million subscribers on YouTube and over a million on Instagram, said in a video that she only went to college for “game days, partying.”
“I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know,” she said.
Douglas Hodge is the former CEO of Pacific Investment Management Co., or Pimco, one of the largest bond fund managers in the world. Hodge allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure admission into Georgetown and USC for his two children.
Felicity Huffman is an Emmy-winning actor best known for her role on Desperate Housewives. She’s alleged to have paid $15,000 as a “purported charitable contribution…to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter.” When her daughter’s high school threatened to disrupt the scheme, documents show that Huffman wrote to singer, ““Ruh Ro! Looks like [my daughter’s high school] wants to provide own proctor.” Her daughter scored 1420 on the SAT, 400 points higher than her PSAT score.
While her husband, actor William H. Macy, is mentioned in the indictment, he has not been charged.
Michelle Janavs is a “former executive at a large food manufacturer formerly owned by members of her family.” When discussing how to help her daughter cheat on the ACT without her finding out, she said to a cooperating witness in a recorded phone call, “She’s smart, she’s going to figure this out. Yeah, she’s going to say to me—she already thinks I’m up to, like, no good.”
Stephen Semprevivo is an executive at Cydcor, a “privately held provider of outsourced sales teams” who “agreed to bribe…the Georgetown tennis coach…to designate his son as a tennis recruit—despite the fact that he did not play tennis competitively—in order to facilitate his admission to Georgetown,” according to the indictment.
Devin Sloane is the founder and CEO of waterTALENT, a “provider of drinking water and wastewater systems, among other businesses.” In order to get his son into USC as a water polo recruit, he apparently had his son photoshopped onto photos of actual water polo-players.
Homayoun Zadeh is an associate professor of dentistry at USC who is alleged to have presented his daughter as an elite lacrosse player, even though she did not play competitively. In an email to Singer, Zadeh wrote that his daughter worried that “she did not get in on her own merits.”
“I have not shared anything about our arrangement but she somehow senses it. She’s concerned that others may view her differently,” he wrote.