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Nationwide Admissions Scam Led to BC Receiving Fake Test Scores

Federal officials revealed during a press conference on Tuesday that the largest college bribery scandal ever prosecuted by the United States Department of Justice affected admissions at some of the most well-regarded universities in the country.

Boston College, along with Boston University and Northeastern, received fake test scores, according to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, but none of these schools were named in the charges.

ABC News reported that officials said the scheme was prosecuted in Boston, partly due to the fact that it was discovered by FBI agents who were investigating another case. Institutions such as Yale University, Stanford University, University of Southern California, and Georgetown University were named as colleges where the scam was perpetrated. Fifty individuals were charged on Tuesday, including William Rick Singer, who entered guilty pleas in Los Angeles and admitted to masterminding the plot to help wealthy parents try and guarantee their children’s admission to various selective universities.

The architects of the scheme bribed college coaches and university officials and accepted payments from parents to fake test scores and athlete profiles for as much as $6.5 million, according to the charges.

Eight schools were named: Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, University of San Diego, USC, University of California Los Angeles, University of Texas at Austin, and Wake Forest University.

BC released a statement on Wednesday to clarify that the University was not involved in the scheme.

“We reiterate that the U.S. Attorney’s filings do not allege that any BC employee participated in these schemes in any way, or that any BC student was accepted under false pretenses,” the statement said. “The Office of Undergraduate Admission at Boston College remains committed to a fair and meritorious admission process that rewards applicants for their hard work and personal achievement.”

While BC isn’t directly tied to the investigation, known internally at the FBI and Justice Department as “Operation Varsity Blues,” the University was mentioned in the unsealed FBI affidavit, available to the public, as of Tuesday.

First, BC was referenced in the case of John B. Wilson, a Lynnfield, Mass., resident and the founder and CEO of a private equity and real estate development firm. Wilson tried to bribe USC men’s water polo coach Jovan Vavic in an attempt to ensure his son’s admission to the school. He also employed similar methods in hopes of getting his two daughters into Stanford and Harvard.

Back on Feb. 10, 2013, Wilson emailed Singer—who founded and co-operated The Key, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business based in Newport, Calif.—inquiring for the deadline “to decide on side door” for “USC or BC or Georgetown etc.” and to determine where the side door option—finding a way to obtain admission without merit or a history of significant donations—was actually realistic. In response, Singer listed the deadline for USC and BC as “mid July.” Wilson’s son ended up attending USC.

Later in the affidavit, BC pops up in the case of Marci Palatella, the CEO of a liquor distribution company in Burlingame, Calif. In March 2016, Singer sent Palatella, who was interested in paying several hundred thousand dollars for admission, a price list, one that Singer detailed as “the number it would take to get admitted even with the fudging of the scores.” Singer told Palatalla that, if she contributed “a large but not significant” donation, her son—who scored a 1410 out of 1600 on the SAT—would have a 75-percent chance of getting into USC.

When Palatella asked for the specific price tag on USC, Singer said “[w]hen we spoke $300-400 [thousands of dollars] was one level, and the second level was $750-1m” before alleging that “Georgetown BC may be over 1m others as stated.” Palatella’s son—falsely identified as a long snapper—ultimately received an acceptance letter from USC.

Defendants have been granted release in district courts across the country, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Texas, Nevada, Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and, most notably, California. All are expected to appear in Boston to enter pleas or stand trial.

Heights Editors Jack Goldman and Abby Hunt contributed to this report.

Featured Image by Steven Senne / AP Photo

March 14, 2019