"Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman and fellow Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin were among 50 people indicted Tuesday in a multi-million dollar scam to help children of the American elite cheat their way into top universities.
The accused, who also include chief executives, financiers, a winemaker and fashion designer, allegedly cheated in admissions tests or arranged for bribes to get their children into prestigious schools including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Southern California, federal prosecutors said.
They paid a bogus charity run by Californian William Rick Singer millions both to arrange for people to fix SAT and ACT entrance exams for their children, and also to bribe university administrators and sports coaches to recruit their children, even when the children were not qualified to play university-level sports.
Huffman, 56, and Loughlin, the 54-year-old star of "Full House," were among 33 parents accused of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in joining the scheme.
Loughlin's fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli was also on the list.
Four people accused of running the scam, and 13 officials associated with university sports and the testing system were also charged.
The payments ranged from $200,000 to $6.5 million, according to Andrew Lelling, the US attorney in Boston, Massachusetts where the case was filed.
"Wealthy parents paid Singer about 25 million dollars in total," Lelling said.
Coaches, including the women's soccer coach at Yale University and the sailing coach at Stanford University, took between $200,000 and $400,000 to accept the students onto their teams.
"Some simply never showed up," he said. "Some pretended an injury and some played and then quit," he said.
None of the students were charged and most remain at the universities, he said.
"The parents and other defendants are clearly the prime movers in this fraud."
The investigation, which went on for one year, did not lead to charges against any universities.
"We have not seen the schools as co-conspirators," Lelling said.