‘Varsity Blues’ Prosecutions Come to an End with Final Conviction

The college admissions scandal known as “Varsity Blues” that broke onto the public scene in 2019 finally came to a close last Friday as the last defendant, professional test taker Mark Riddell, was convicted by a federal jury. Riddell was sentenced to four months in prison and ordered to forfeit $240,000 he took in as part of his illegal scheme.

Public attention focused on the scandal when it was revealed that wealthy parents were buying access for their children to attractive universities through bribery and fraud.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins said calling the conduct discovered in the case reprehensible “is an understatement.” She said that privileged and entitled “rich, powerful, and famous” people used their money and influence to “steal admissions spots” from more deserving and qualified applicants.

The Varsity Blues prosecutions laid bare the corruption involved in many college admissions. While it is well known that “legacy” applicants are given preferential treatment, the case showed that being the child of rich parents could be just as helpful as having parents who attended the desired school.

One admissions officer told Bob Hoge at RedState that the bidding for a purchased admissions spot started at around a half-million dollars. That starting price would only guarantee favorable consideration, not admission. Upwards of one to ten million dollars is what it took at some schools to ensure admission.

Actress Lori Laughlin and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, were the most notorious of the Varsity Blues defendants. They used college athletics as a means to fraudulently seek admission for their daughters to the private University of Southern California. They participated in an elaborate fraud involving dressing their children in crew outfits in order to falsely claim they were top rowing competitors. They even presented some over-the-top photos of them on rowing machines.

Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman was another notable target of the investigation. She had a professional test-taker fraudulently take an admissions test for her daughter, without even telling her that she was doing so.

The entertainment industry defendants in the matter drew media attention because of their personal notoriety. They also demonstrated the amazing level of entitlement that the “super-elite” feel when it comes to playing by the ordinary rules others must obey.