College Student Defense

College Admissions Scandal Overview

By January 20, 2020May 7th, 2020No Comments

A former California real estate executive was sentenced to six months in prison for his role in the high-profile college admissions scandal, in which 50 wealthy people, including celebrities like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, paid big bucks to a consultant to secure admission to some of the nation’s top colleges. 

Toby MacFarlane is not among the more famous names on the list of defendants, but his six-month sentence is the longest prison sentence for any of the dozens of people charged in the scheme. He must also pay a $150,000 fine and complete 200 hours of community service. 

It’s not too far off from the punishment that prosecutors recommended: 15 months of prison, a $95,000 fine and one year of supervised release. MacFarlane paid $450,000 to the scandal’s ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, to have his son and daughter admitted to the University of Southern California as star athletes, even though they weren’t. 

But it’s a lot harsher than the punishment that actress Felicity Huffman got. Huffman spent 11 days of a 14-day prison sentence after pleading guilty to mail fraud charges. She was released early because her release date fell on a weekend. Huffman also paid a $30,000 fine and must complete 250 hours of community service. 

Loughlin, on the other hand, is fighting the charges and has pleaded not guilty. 

Other people implicated in the far-reaching scandal include coaches at prestigious universities like the University of Texas and Yale. 

How did the scandal, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by federal prosecutors, work? 


Parents paid for one of two things:

  • Having their children’s test scores altered 
  • Lying about their children being athletes


Shanlon Wu, a CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor and current defense attorney who represents college students, said he was naive to think that this type of bribery and corruption was only happening at colleges in other countries. 

“In my representation of college students as well as in my adjunct teaching, I have long recognized signs of the enormous and increasing stress the admissions process, parents and college itself places upon students,” Wu said in a CNN editorial published in March. 

“Until this scandal broke, I had not realized to what extent such pressure could promote or help parents rationalize outright corruption of some of the most cherished ideals of merit-based fairness in college admissions … But that is exactly what these criminal charges reveal.”

Shanlon Wu’s current practice focuses on white collar and student criminal defense. You can learn more about Mr. Wu’s life and work and how to contact him here

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

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