In the past twenty years of supporting college-bound families, we have learned to not be overly surprised by the potential for misconduct and harmful behaviors of parents.

The Atlantic provides a succinct summary “A coast-to-coast FBI probe alleges that a network of celebrities, business executives, and other powerful figures is at the center of a massive bribery scheme to secure admission into some of the country’s most elite colleges, according to court documents unsealed earlier today.

Among the defendants are nearly three dozen parents whom federal prosecutors are charging with conspiracy and other crimes for allegedly using hefty sums of money to get their children into schools such as Yale, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California. Specifically, the newly unsealed court documents contend that these high-rolling parents—some of them being public figures such as the actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as Loughlin’s husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli—paid hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, of dollars per child to a fixer who would then use that money to allegedly bribe certain college officials or other conspirators to help secure the child’s admission.”

We know that many parents and families are dedicated to helping their children to get into college. We review the mail, visit Naviance & Parchment websites to identify realistic and stretch schools, review admissions essays and eventually even often remind them to sign up for the college admissions tests. Some parents even go so far as to hire coaches and tutors to help facilitate the process.

But the FBI has found that some parents have gone much too far creating a national scandal that reflects poorly on school officials who participated, school officials who failed to reliably audit admissions process and even a cheating scandal, involving both the ACT and SAT, that was also included in a 46-page criminal complaint from the FBI in what is being called the largest college admission scandal ever.

In the context of nearly 3 million students applying for college admissions, the scope of the conspiracy is small, but the shocking part of the criminal complaint is how bold the parents were in thinking that they were entitled to purchase access to the college of their choice. The allegations start in 2011 and involve at least 50 parents (“defendants”) who appear to have used fraudulent means to facilitate their children’s admissions to high profile colleges including Yale, Stanford and others. The fraud was perpetrated in several different ways.

  1. Exam Fraud: The defendants bribed others to either allow a third party to take a standardized college entrance exam in lieu of their student, or they provided the student with answers during the exam or they corrected the exam after its administration. This all resulted in the student’s obtaining a much higher score than they would have gotten otherwise.
  2. Bribes to Coaches: In some cases, defendants bribed college coaches to the tune of millions of dollars to designate their child as athlete, regardless of whether the student even played the sport. As a designated athlete, the bar for admission in term of grades and scores is lowered so these fictitious athlete designations allowed non-athletes to get into a university with lower grades and test scores.
  3. Academic Fraud: Sometimes third parties would be paid to take classes for the defendant’s children with the understanding that their grade would be substituted for the child’s grade. Finally the defendants would submit falsified applications for admission; with fraudulent grades, extracurriculars and standardized tests. 

This approximately $25 million bribery ring was run through a college admissions company located inn Newport, California. The defendants used the facade of a charitable organization to conceal the nature and source of the bribe payments.

Joseph R. Bonavolonta, the special agent in charge of the Boston office of the F.B.I., noted that most families play by the rules and that  “You can’t lie and cheat to get ahead because you will get caught,” he said.