Parents Photoshopped Teens Into Water Polo Pictures and Paid More Than $500,000 in 'Bribes' to USC
Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling described the scheme as "the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the department of justice"
From doctoring photos to writing large checks, a criminal complaint reveals the lengths to which parents went to get their children into universities including University of Southern California, Yale, Georgetown, and Stanford.
Federal court records unsealed Tuesday in Boston accuse 50 people — including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman — of taking part in a nationwide college admissions cheating scam, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.
According to the complaint, two of the accused, Devin Sloane and Elisabeth Kimmel, even went as far as having sports pictures of their children photoshopped, creating phony athletic profiles, and paying more than $200,000 so their children could attend USC.
Sloane, who owns several businesses — including a Los Angeles-based drinking water and wastewater systems provider — allegedly worked with USC’s senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel to present his son as a recruit to the school’s men’s water polo team, thus facilitating his admission to USC, according to the affidavit.
However, Sloane’s son did not play water polo competitively. So, according to the documents, Sloane purchased water polo gear through Amazon and an email revealed that Sloane worked with a graphic designer to create photos of his son playing the sport.
“Any chance to put him in a setting that looks like an outdoor [polo] pool?” Sloane asked, according to the complaint. In another email, the designer sent a doctored photo of Sloane’s son with his right arm and torso above the water line. The designer asked if the photo was suitable.
When the photos were finished, the designer sent well wishes with a simple, “Hope this works.”
Then, Heinel allegedly instructed Sloane to send a check for $50,000 to USC and pay $200,000 to The Key Worldwide Foundation, the school’s college prep foundation — which is 501c3 organization exempt from paying federal income tax, according to the documents. Laura Janke, who is listed as USC’s women’s soccer assistant coach, was allegedly instructed to create an athlete profile for Sloane’s son based on information Sloane gave her.
Sloane did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
In a statement, USC officials said that the school is participating in the “ongoing wide-ranging criminal investigation,” adding that the institution has “not been accused of any wrongdoing.” The officials noted that faculty involved hid their actions from the university.
“USC is conducting an internal investigation and will take employment actions as appropriate,” the statement continued. “USC is in the process of identifying any funds received by the university in connection with this alleged scheme. Additionally, the university is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward.”
Both Janke and Heinel have been indicted by a federal grand jury on a charge of racketeering conspiracy. Janke and Heinel’s participation in the scam was wide-ranging, according to the documents.
Kimmel, who owns a media company, is accused of bribing Georgetown University officials on behalf of her daughter as a tennis player and USC officials to gain her son’s admission as a track and field recruit. There is neither a record of her daughter playing tennis competitively nor her son participating in high school track and field.
Still, Kimmel presented her son as a pole vaulter, and Janke was asked to find “pole vaulter pics” for a phony athletic profile, according to the documents. The profile included a photo of what was stated to be Kimmel’s son pole vaulting. However, the athlete in the photo is not Kimmel’s son, the affidavit states.
Between October 2017 and March 2018, the Meyer Charitable Foundation, in which Kimmel and her husband serve as officers, made a pair of donations to USC and the KWF totaling $250,000, according to the court documents.
Kimmel’s son was admitted to the school that March. PEOPLE was unable to immediately reach Kimmel for comment.
Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced at a Tuesday press conference that 50 people have been indicted in the scam on charges include punishments for cheating on college entrance exams. He described the situation as “the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the department of justice.”
Some named in the court documents allegedly paid bribes of up to $6 million to get their children into elite colleges, including Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Southern California, UCLA, the University of San Diego, University of Texas, Wake Forest, and Yale, according to federal prosecutors.