Celebs & CEOs are likely to beat the rap in college fraud.

As  someone who got into Yale the hard, old-fashioned way, the fact that celebs & CEOs are likely to beat the rap for bribing colleges outrages me.

I’ve blogged about bias and discrimination in favor  celebs and other elites before. Most recently, here and here.

The defendants are a “catalogue of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling  said during his press conference announcing charges.Most importantly, he also said,  “There can be no separate college-admissions system for the wealthy, and I’ll add that there will not be a separate criminal-justice system either.”

This boldfaced statement was, and still is, my hope. But I’m beginning to worry.

Celebs & CEOs are likely to beat the rap.Macy, Huffman, Loughlin

Celebs & CEOs are likely to beat the rap.Macy, Huffman, Loughlin

For basics in the case, visit Vulture’s great summary. Among other things, U.S. Attorney’s allege the central figure in the scandal, college consultant William Singer, went so far as to doctor photos to turn celeb and CEO clients’ children into athletes on paper. For example, outstanding athletic profiles were actually faked, and in some cases, photos of his clients’ children were Photoshopped onto the bodies of real athletes.

The Varsity Blues admissions scandal bothers me, as does a recent article’s opening lines:

“Getting your kid into Yale with bribes, fixed SAT scores and fake athletic feats is morally indefensible. But in the courtroom it may be a different story.”

I’ll quote liberally from the  Bloomberg Business news article  by Patricia Hurtado and Janelle Lawrence, and then give my reaction at the end.

I’ve provided some section breaks and the boldfaced section headings.

‘As the well-heeled parents in the U.S. college admissions scandal negotiate pleas — or, less likely, fight it out at trial — lawyers have some strategies in mind.

“You’re going to have parents saying, ‘Look, I was just trying to help my child. My intent was not to break any laws,'” said Diane Ferrone, a criminal defense lawyer in New York. “I think that the prospect of any of them serving any time in jail is highly unlikely.”

Parents Who Cop to College Admissions Scam May Stay Out of Jail

The Justice Department has already sent a signal of leniency by charging almost all the parents with a criminal complaint, which can be filed to start a case, instead of a formal indictment.
That’s “a billboard-sized shoutout inviting parents to come in, plead guilty and accept responsibility, or be dragged through an ugly formal charging process or even an indictment,” said Jacob Frenkel, a former [SEC] enforcement lawyer …

The extent to which prosecutors will plea-bargain with the defendants remains to be seen. At a news conference last Tuesday to announce the charges, they said some parents had committed tax fraud by claiming the bribes were charitable contributions. But they also said none were charged with that crime. That gives the government leeway — though no obligation — to let parents bargain for a misdemeanor tax charge that may carry no prison time at all.

Frenkel called it “a shot across the bow” that “you may be facing felonies, but the opportunity is there to resolve this as a tax case,” rather than face the current charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud….

The charge against the parents carries a maximum prison term of 20 years, but under federal sentencing guidelines they are certain to face a far shorter time behind bars, if any.For each defendant who pleads or is found guilty, the judge will consider the nature of the crime, the sums involved and whether the parent has a criminal record, as well as mitigating factors… cooperation and acceptance of responsibility, plus any health concerns.

When asked at a court appearance for [defendant CEO] Greg Abbott how much time he could face, the prosecutor told the judge 12 to 24 months. Abbott’s lawyer, Jennifer Willis, said zero to six months….

“While the alleged conduct of the individual defendant parents varies, the ultimate question is, does this really rise to the level of being criminal?” Ferrone said. “Some of the parents may attempt to defend against the charges by saying they paid Mr. Singer for a service and were not aware of the full extent of the fraud.” Juries can be “receptive to claims of overcriminalization,” she said.

One strategy is to blame Singer.

If a case does go to trial, defense lawyers are likely to attack Singer. “He was at the center of the alleged scheme, and if the government is in the business of shutting down criminality, haven’t they done so?” Ferrone said. “Going after the parents may be a bridge too far.”…

This guy made all this money. Instead of taking his medicine, he ran from the table and said, ‘How can I jam everybody else up?'” said [Boston lawyer Steven] Boozang, who has represented clients in organized-crime cases. …

Big apologist, playwright Mamet.

The just-being-a-parent defense was at the heart of an open letter that playwright David Mamet posted last week in The Hollywood Reporter in support of the actor Felicity Huffman, a longtime friend and professional associate of his. She is charged with disguising a $15,000 bribe used to boost her daughter’s SAT scores as a charitable payment.

A non-glammed Felicity Huffman at Courthouse.

A non-glammed Felicity Huffman at Courthouse.

In the letter, Mamet derided the charges as blind to the “unfortunate and corrupt joke” of university admissions policies that favor the children of alumni and big donors.” That a parent’s zeal for her children’s future may have overcome her better judgment for a moment is not only unfortunate,” he wrote. “It is, I know we parents would agree, a universal phenomenon.” …

Further Rationalizations for fraud?

New York lawyer Murray Richman called the scandal “a crime without a cash benefit” and said parents may seek leniency by arguing they made no financial gain.

“Who was hurt? Society was, but a message will be sent, and these people have been embarrassed,” he said. “But nobody is going to jail on this one.”

Deeper the involvement, deeper the doo doo.

How far parents can negotiate down any prison time will depend partly on how heavily involved they were in the scheme and how much money they paid, lawyers said.

Take Canadian dealmaker David Sidoo, who prosecutors say conspired with Singer for years to pay an impostor $100,000 to take the SAT for each of his two sons and continued long afterward with inquiries about the GMAT, the business school entrance exam. Such a long-term relationship makes an entrapment defense, for example, harder to mount.

Sidoo, the only parent indicted, is now on leave from his executive roles. His lawyer David Chesnoff…   said in an emailed statement that Sidoo would “contest both the legal and factual basis for the charge.” …

Also working against claims of being duped by Singer, and likely to spur a spate of pleas, is the trove of evidence investigators amassed in the form of recorded conversations, checks and emails, said [attorney] Aloke Chakravarty…

The first cases to make their way through the system will set the tone, Chakravarty said, with “good, creative lawyering” building a “frame of reference.”

And what about sentencing?

When it comes time for sentencing, he said, he could see a judge going either way — sympathizing with parents who wanted the best for their kids, or scorning them because “those same judges also went to elite schools, and earned their way into them.”

At least one lawyer has declared that sort of contempt for the defendants’ actions. In his 40 years as a criminal defense attorney, Gerald Lefcourt has advocated for the Chicago Seven and the Black Panthers, and believes “everyone deserves to have the best defense.”
And the parents? “I’m so turned off by this conduct,” he said.

Mamet, in his open letter, reached a different conclusion. The fairest verdict, he wrote, may be “Not Guilty, but Don’t do it Again.”‘

My reaction?

Fair, my arse!  Sorry Mr.”Immersed in H’wood Hypocrisy” Mamet!

What do you think?

And any suggestions?  For example, should we license all “Admissions counselors” and track their success rates?”**

** In my day, Yale knew which admissions “consultants” (pretty much “school counselors”) and which schools yielded strong applicants because Yale tracked the grades—and often careers afterwards—of their recommendees.  Of course, the word got out, and property values around the public high schools began to climb. So, upper-middle-class ‘burbs became a key factor in the ‘college admissions game.’

To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.

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