Another round of federal criminal charges has hit the plea deal holdouts in the Varsity Blues college admissions bribery scandal that broke earlier this year.
Eleven defendants, including actress Lori Loughlin, were charged Tuesday by a grand jury in Boston with conspiring to commit federal program bribery by paying employees at the University of Southern California to admit the defendants' children as athletic recruits or other favored admissions categories. One of those parents, John Wilson of Lynnfield, Mass., is charged with two additional counts of bribery conspiracy for allegedly paying to get his children admitted to Harvard University and Stanford University.
Seven university coaches and other university officials also face new charges
of conspiring to commit mail and wire fraud as well as honest services mail and wire fraud. Three of them — former USC athletics administrator Donna Heinel, former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst, and former UCLA men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo — face additional charges of committing federal program bribery.
The latest charges increase pressure on the defendants, whose arraignment dates have not yet been set, to plead guilty prior to their cases going to trial. On Monday, four other parents entered plea agreements before the new charges were made. Of the 52 people ensnared in the admissions scandal, a total of 29 have now agreed to plead guilty.
With these new charges added to previous ones, the defendants who insist on their innocence and have rejected plea offers now face up to 45 years in prison if found guilty on all counts.
The wealthy business people and celebrities facing new charges include Full House actress Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli. They are accused of paying a $500,000 bribe to officials at USC to get their two daughters admitted as recruits for the university's crew team. Neither of them had even practiced the sport.
Meanwhile, Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman started serving a 14-day term in prison last week after entering a guilty plea in the scandal.
The conspiracy to commit federal bribery charges are based on a federal statute that's triggered whenever a bribe of at least $5,000 is given to an organization that receives more than $10,000 from the federal government. Virtually every higher education institution in the country, both public and private, would fit that category.
The $25 million college admission scandal's mastermind, William "Rick" Singer, has pleaded guilty to four federal charges and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.