It’s been just over two years since the FBI publicized its Operation Varsity Blues investigation into William “Rick” Singer, a “college admissions counsellor” who helped dozens of wealthy, well-connected families buy their way into elite colleges by falsifying test scores and pretending their non-athlete children were sportsrecruits. More than 50 people were charged for their involvement, including coaches, an athletic director, and standardized test administrators. But most of the charges went to the parents who paid Singer a combined $25 million USD to guarantee their kids entry into schools like Georgetown University and the University of Southern California (USC).
Netflix’s new documentary, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, offers a look into Singer’s scheme and the conversations about wealth, privilege, and education that the scandal has sparked since the plot came to light. At the time of the documentary’s March 2021 release, 30 parents have pleaded guilty and 23 have been sentenced, but the case is still ongoing — one parent pleaded guilty in February, and some of the involved parties are serving their sentences right now. Here’s a look at what happened to some of the scandal's biggest players: the parents.
Actress Felicity Huffman was the first — and probably most famous — parent to be sentenced for her role in the operation. In May 2019, Huffman pleaded guilty to paying Singer $15,000 USD to falsify her daughter’s SAT scores. “I accept the court’s decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge [Indira] Talwani imposed,” Huffman wrote in a statement after her sentencing. “I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.” She also apologized to her daughter and to the many students who “work very hard every day to get into college.”
In October 2019, Huffman completed her 14-day sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, CA. She was given a year on probation and had to pay a $30,000 USD fine and devote 250 hours towards community service, which she began immediately after leaving prison, according to Us Weekly. Huffman decided on two L.A.-based organizations: the Teen Project, a rehab center that helps homeless teenagers, and A New Way of Life, a project that aims to help formerly incarcerated women reenter society. “She’s been cooking for the women, cleaning the homes, shopping and answering the phone,” Susan Burton, who founded A New Way of Life in 1998, told People. “We love having her here.”
Although Deadline reported that Huffman was “heavily courted” within Hollywood after her release from prison, she didn’t sign onto any new projects until November, when it was announced that she would be in a comedy pilot for ABC. The show, which is still untitled, is a single-camera comedy inspired by the true story of Susan Savage, the owner of a minor league baseball team.
Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, was not charged or sentenced, possibly due to a lack of evidence. Macy currently stars in Shameless, which will end in April after 11 seasons.
Lori Loughlin, who allegedly paid $500,000 USD for Singer to guarantee her two daughters admission to the University of Southern California (USC), received a longer sentence than Huffman. For over a year, she pushed for the charges to be dropped, arguing that she believed her $500,000 USD payment was a legitimate donation or that Singer was coerced into lying to the FBI. Eventually, she agreed to plead guilty, and received a punishment of two months in prison, two years of supervised release, 100 hours of community service, and a $150,000 USD fine.
Like Huffman, Loughlin went to the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California. She started her sentence on October 30, 2020 and was released a few days early on December 28. Us Weekly reported that she recently completed her community service hours with Project Angel Food.
An insider told People that Loughlin “previously expressed that she would love to act again at some point.” After the admissions scandal, Loughlin did not appear in the final season of Netflix’s Fuller House, and her character was also written off of Hallmark’s Hope Valley. The creator of the latter, however, has teased that she might return, as Hope Valley “should be an example of forgiveness and grace.”
Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, infamously had their daughters (who do not row crew) pose on a rowing machine for photos that “proved” their status as recruited athletes.
Like Loughlin, Giannulli agreed to a plea deal last May, which included five months in prison, a $250,000 USD fine, two years of supervised release, and 250 hours of community service. According to attorneys, he received a harsher sentence than his wife because he engaged more frequently with Singer, directed all the payments, and “personally confronted his daughter’s high school counsellor” with outright lies about his daughter’s so-called athletic career.
Giannulli began his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution on October 30. He was placed in solitary confinement for several weeks before he was moved into a minimum security camp. In January, his lawyers asked if he could serve the rest of his sentence from home, writing that his time held in quarantine took a toll on his “mental, physical, and emotional well-being.” The request was denied, and he is set for release in April.
As of March, 23 parents have been sentenced, and many have already served prison time. Agustin Huneeus Jr., whose family owns several Napa Valley wineries, was released in March 2020, shortly before his five-month sentence was up. Business executive Devin Sloane, whose term ended in April 2020, also asked for an early release, which he was denied.
The longest sentence went to CEO Douglas Hodge, who paid Singer $850,000 USD over the course of a decade to guarantee college admission to four of his children. Hodge was sentenced to nine months in prison. “Quite simply, there was no parent sentenced to date who benefited more from Singer’s scheme than Doug Hodge,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin O’Connell, according to USA Today.
Other sentenced parents include Michelle Janavs, whose family created Hot Pockets; business executive Stephen Semprevivo, whose son attempted to sue Georgetown over his expulsion; and attorney Gordon Caplan, who was instructed to tell his daughter to act “stupid” in order to secure accomodations for students with learning disabilities.
One parent, however, got out of his sentence: Robert Zangrillo, a Miami-based investor who spent $250,000 USD to get his daughter into USC as a transfer after she was initially rejected. Donald Trump pardoned Zangrillo in January, explaining that he is a “well-respected business leader” and that his daughter currently has a 3.9 GPA at USC. (If you think this sounds suspicious, you’re right. The White House said that several of Trump’s friends and donors supported Zangrillo’s request for a pardon, including real estate developer Geoff Palmer and USC trustee Tom Barrack. A spokesperson for Barrack, however, has denied this.)
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said that Trump’s decision to pardon Zangrillo, “who is charged with bribery and fraud, including having his own daughter knowingly participate in a scheme to lie to USC about her accomplishments and grades, illustrates precisely why Operation Varsity Blues was necessary in the first place.”