Some clever law enforcement professionals recently, belatedly, became aware that certain rich Hollywood types were doing more than pulling strings and waving their eyelashes to help to get their children into elite schools. They were applying money to the problem. This has, of course, been going on since rich people and elite schools have existed in America, and that makes me wonder. Why finally notice and take action now? What's so special about now?
I haven't seen a complete list of the poor defendants who were sucked up in this dragnet, so for now I remain merely suspicious. The poster children for this new class of criminal masterminds are Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. If the other thirty-three (!!!) arrestees are also prosperous entertainers, I'm going to get much more suspicious in a hurry. I hope that no one believes that people who made their money either in business deals or in stock manipulations are above this kind of behavior.
Ms. Huffman and Ms. Loughlin's cases are as different as night and day. The former's case is very simple, and the methods used were inexpensive. The later was much more ambitious, and the whole thing cost her over half a mil. To my knowledge, the dragnet completely ignored the very rich who cheat their children into elite schools by simply throwing huge sums of money at the target school. There is a quid pro quo, but it remains discretely in the background. The school gets a new pool and a new floor on its basketball court, and some undeserving brat goes to Princeton. The law enforcement professionals were probably warned off by the schools, who naturally want to see that kind of largess continue.
Ms. Huffman is alleged to have paid $15,000 to improve her daughter's SAT scores. I've seen the methodology described in two ways in our modern, less than reliable media. Either: 1) someone with access to the tests changed many of her answers from wrong to correct; or 2) someone was paid to pose as the daughter and take the SAT again after a miserable showing by the real daughter. Either way, it is alleged that for a mere one-time payment of $15,000, the daughter's SAT score was raised by 400 points. That, my friends, would be the greatest bargain in the history of fraud.
On a sadder note, it is also alleged that Ms. Huffman paid a sympathetic medical professional to prove up some kind of learning disability for the daughter. This kind of thing buys them more time for taking the test itself. Therein lies a tale.
When I graduated from law school, several of my classmates mysteriously came down with bad cases of dyslexia, you know, before the bar exam. They hadn't had any trouble with passing law school classes, and I can tell you that I went to a school that believed in extremely difficult tests. Those crooked students could hardly contain their delight at these diagnoses. One guy was being so obnoxious about it that I came dangerously close to throwing him down a flight of stairs.
Ms. Huffman has pleaded guilty to one count of something relatively insignificant, but just for the optics I'm sure they'll put her behind bars for a while. This kind of demonstration is common with celebrities. Make a fuss about sentencing them and putting them in orange jumpsuits, and then quietly let them go after a matter of days or weeks.
Ms. Loughlin's case is far more serious, although, strangely, she does not seem to be taking it very seriously. She is alleged to have paid an employee of the target university to dummy up an acceptance for her daughter. The employee works, or “worked,” more likely, as a high-level coach for a lesser sport. That one cost a cool $500,000, an amount that generates a lot of interest among prosecutors and juries. Ms. Loughlin has very casually turned down a plea deal that would have put her in prison for a couple of years. I read somewhere that the prosecutor has left the plea deal on the table as is, which surprised me. More often they bump up the years in the offer. They claim to have her on the hook for twenty, or forty, or something. When that much money changes hands as part of a criminal enterprise, all kinds of peripheral charges are triggered. For instance, money laundering.
If she keeps shining them on with that confident smile, she could really piss them off. If that happens, she could do some real time. Somebody needs to explain to her that this is not a Hallmark made-for-TV movie. These people can hurt you.
On the Other Side of the Tracks!
All of this is very nice, but, as usual, the devil is down in the corners somewhere. CNN dot com was kind enough to write up a story about what happens when black women are charged with crimes that bear surface similarities to those described above. That, my darlings, is not a pretty picture, but you probably knew that already.
Kelly W-B, of Ohio, used her father's address to get her child into a better school that was outside of her assigned district. I'll bet that most of us know someone who has done that, or something similar. Well, Miss Kelly got caught, and the full force of the law was brought to bear not only on Miss Kelly, but also on her father. Kelly did nine days in jail, just to make sure that she understood the gravity of the situation, and she had to pay a total of $36,000, mostly to the school in her assigned district which had lost government revenue for having one less student. Her father, hold on to your hat, was sentenced to prison, that's where you go when you are convicted of a felony, and he died in prison.
Tanya McD of Connecticut was arrested on the same charge, using a false or fraudulent address to get her child into a school outside of her assigned district. This one gets poignant in a hurry, so get a tissue handy. This is a tearjerker. Ms. Tanya was homeless at the time, so she didn't have any damn address. She used an address that she knew would get her child into a better school. She did a lot more time that Miss Kelly did, but that's apples and oranges because Tanya's case had drug charges attached to it by the time the prosecutors got rolling. Unless there was a suitable relative to take the child, it's a sure thing that Social Services took away Tanya's parental rights and put the child in a foster home.
Back to Hollywood!
Felicity might get off with some community service or something. She's cooperating, and her crimes are not great. If Lori's not careful, though, she could get some of that Martha Stewart time. She could miss a few holidays, maybe even a couple of birthdays. I won't cry for either of them, but Kelly and Tanya have my deepest sympathies.