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Television Stars, Coaches, Others Charged In Nationwide US College Bribery Scheme

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FBI Special Agent in Charge Boston Division Joseph Bonavolonta, left, and U.S. Attorney for District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, right, face reporters as they announce indictments in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal during a news conference, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.

Authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million bribery case against 50 people in all.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents were among those charged in the investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested by midday.

Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children’s chances of getting into schools.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.

The coaches worked at such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.

No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of the fraud.

Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, boosted the students’ chances of admission.

Among the parents charged were Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Connecticut, a co-chairman of an international law firm based in New York; Jane Buckingham, CEO of a boutique marketing company in Los Angeles; Gregory Abbott of New York, founder and chairman of a packaging company; and Manuel Henriquez, CEO of a finance company based in Palo Alto, California.

The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid William Singer, the founder of the Edge College & Career Network, approximately $25 million to get their children into college.

Prosecutors said Singer was scheduled to plead guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy.

John Vandemoer, the former head sailing coach at Stanford, was also expected to plead guilty Tuesday.

Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House,” while Huffman starred in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” Both were charged with fraud and conspiracy.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter’s answers. The person told investigators that the couple agreed to the plan.

Macy was not charged; authorities did not say why.

Messages seeking comment from Huffman’s representative were not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment.

Read the full criminal complaint below:

Murder Trial

Parents of Caliyah McNabb Found Guilty, Sentenced In 14-Day-Old Daughter’s Murder

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The parents of a 14-day-old Georgia baby were found guilty on Tuesday in connection with the little girl’s death. Caliyah McNabb suffered horrific injuries after her father beat her in the head and hid her tiny body in the woods, around 900 feet from her home.

“She was a little angel,” District Attorney Layla Zon said during her closing arguments inside a Newton County courtroom Tuesday afternoon. “She was a gift to Cortney Bell and Christopher McNabb.”

Christopher McNabb, the baby’s father, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on charges of malice murder, aggravated assault, and other related charges. Cortney Bell, the baby’s mother, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with the possibility of parole in 15 years, on charges of second-degree murder, child deprivation, and child cruelty.

McNabb grew angry after the guilty verdict, which only took the jury around an hour to decide. Judge John Ott ordered him out of the courtroom. When he returned for sentencing, McNabb claimed he was innocent and planned to appeal.

“The whole thing was a set-up,” McNabb hissed, clearly upset with the verdict. “I was beat as a child and I don’t agree with this at all. I don’t agree with this at all. I would never do this.”

Ott asked McNabb what type of sentence he would give the person responsible for Caliyah’s death. McNabb replied that the guilty party should be thrown “under the jail.” With that, Ott sentenced McNabb to life without parole.

Bell shed tears during sentencing as she also claimed innocence. Ott told Bell that she allowed a “rattlesnake into her home” by putting McNabb before her children and allowing violence and drugs into her children’s lives.

“You chose meth and McNabb over a baby,” Ott said. “Like most criminals, you have a version of what a good mama is that is so far from the norm.”

Baby Caliyah’s Short Life

As CrimeOnline previously reported, in October 2017, the Newton County Medical Examiner’s Office reported that Caliyah died from blunt force trauma to the head. The injuries were gruesome. The infant was beaten in so badly that her baby teeth, which had not yet developed, stuck out through her gums.

The baby also suffered a blow so severe to her head that her skull was “seriously disfigured and damaged beyond repair.” McNabb caused the injuries, then in a panic, wrapped the baby in a blanket and one of his t-shirts, and put her into a Nike drawstring bag. He then took Caliyah into the woods behind his trailer home in Covington and buried her in a depressed area under a log.

It’s unclear exactly what caused the horrific beating, but according to testimony by Bell’s cousin, Gerald Weatherford, both Bell and McNabb smoked meth with him on October 7, 2017, the night before Caliyah disappeared.

“Cortney Bell was too busy smoking methamphetamine to protect her child,” Assistant District Attorney Alex Stone said.

During testimony last week, Bell’s cousin, Megan Sorrells, said Bell was being abused at home during the time Caliyah vanished. She also testified that McNabb and Bell were constantly fighting. Sorrells said Bell never told her about the abuse, but as a domestic abuse victim herself, she could already tell.

“She always had bruises on her,” Sorrells said of Bell. “I didn’t really have to ask many questions. I could tell.”

Court testimony also indicated that little Caliyah wasn’t around her parents much in the mere 14 days she was alive. After spending four days in the hospital after birth, McNabb and Bell passed the baby off to family members multiple times. Caliyah stayed several days with her grandfather, Tim Bell.

Tim testified that he returned the child home with milk and clean diapers in early October, and told his daughter, Bell, to clean up her filthy trailer home. The following day, Caliyah was dead.

Although Bell wasn’t accused of physically harming the baby, by allowing Caliyah to live in a dangerous environment while doing nothing to protect her, makes her culpable of murder. Ott explained to Bell that her second-degree murder charge meant that irrespective of malice, while she was in the commission of neglecting her baby, she helped caused her death.

Zon added that Caliyah’s best days were the days she stayed in the hospital after birth, and that the baby was “doomed” as soon as she was taken home.

“That child was doomed the moment they left that hospital. They took pure innocence and brought that child into a life of hell.”

(Reporting by CrimeOnline)

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Crime

Actress Felicity Huffman Pleads Guilty In College Admissions Scheme

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BOSTON (AP) — “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman has pleaded guilty to participating in the college admissions cheating scheme.


The 56-year-old actress entered the plea Monday to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Huffman stood with her hands clasped in front of her and responded, “Yes, your honor,” when asked whether she understood the charges. Her brother watched from the front row. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, didn’t attend.

Sentencing is set for Sept. 13. Prosecutors said they would recommend four months in prison.

She was arrested in March along with dozens of other prominent parents, athletic coaches and others implicated in the scandal. She was charged with paying $15,000 to have a proctor boost her older daughter’s SAT score.

She has apologized and says she will accept the consequences.

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Crime

‘Anna Delvey,’ Fake Heiress Who Swindled N.Y.’s Elite, Is Sentenced to 4 to 12 Years in Prison

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Anna Sorokin, who pretended to be a German heiress, bilked Manhattan hotels, banks and a private jet operator.

Anna Sorokin, the fake German heiress who swindled her way into Manhattan’s elite party circles, was sentenced on Thursday to four to 12 years in prison for bilking hotels, banks and a private jet operator out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The sentencing capped a case of a young grifter who spun her tale with brazen flair. Ms. Sorokin wore designer clothes, lived in boutique hotels, dined in expensive restaurants and lured investors for a $40 million private club — all without a penny to her name.

She has been held on Rikers Island since October 2017. Ms. Sorokin, 28, was convicted last month of most of the charges against her.

Her lawyer, Todd Spodek, said during that trial that Ms. Sorokin was simply an enterprising business-minded woman eager to make it in the big city.

But jurors agreed with prosecutors that her gilt-edged life was an elaborate ruse financed by lies.

In addition to the prison sentence, Ms. Sorokin was fined $24,000 and ordered to pay restitution of about $199,000.

“I apologize for the mistakes I made,” she said at the sentencing.

Ms. Sorokin stiffed hotels, persuaded a bank employee to give her a $100,000 line of credit, swayed a private jet company to let her fly on credit, and tried to secure a $25 million loan from a hedge fund. In all, she stole about $213,000 worth of money and services.

Still, the jury found her not guilty of the most serious offense — faking records in an attempt to obtain a $22 million loan. She was also acquitted of stealing from a friend who said Ms. Sorokin duped her into covering the cost of a $60,000 vacation to Morocco.

To many friends, there was every reason to believe that Ms. Sorokin was a wealthy German heiress named Anna Delvey with so much money that she frequently doled out $100 tips and flew on a private jet to Berkshire Hathaway’s annual investment conference.

But Kaegan Mays-Williams, a prosecutor, said during the trial that Ms. Sorokin’s only goal was to “put herself in the best position to take money” from the wealthy so that she could “live the fantasy of an extravagant lifestyle.”

Mr. Spodek said people believed what they wanted about Ms. Sorokin. She was enabled, he said, by a system “seduced by glamour and glitz.” She intended to pay back her creditors, he said.

“Through her sheer ingenuity, she created the life that she wanted for herself,” he said. “Anna was not content with being a spectator, but wanted to be a participant.”

(Reporting by New York Times)


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