Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin Caught in Insane College Admissions Cheating Scandal

hollywood college cheating scandal
Steve Granitz/Jon Kopaloff/Getty
Steve Granitz/Jon Kopaloff/Getty

Actresses Felicity Huffman (American Crime, Desperate Housewives) and Lori Loughlin (Full House) are among the dozens of individuals tied to a massive $25 million college admissions cheating scandal, according to court documents unsealed on Tuesday morning. Huffman, who won an Emmy for her work on Desperate Housewives, and Loughlin, best known for her role as Aunt Becky on the long-running family sitcom Full House, face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. All for a genuinely wild scheme in which wealthy parents would pay tens of thousands of dollars to help their already privileged kids get into elite colleges... and the University of San Diego. 

At least 40 people are part of the alleged conspiracy, which unfolds in the court documents like a Coen Brothers movie or a plotline from Showtime's Shameless, which stars Huffman's husband William H. Macy. (Coincidentally, Macy, who played a guy caught up in a con in Fargo, complained about the cost of his daughter's horse in an interview with The Ringer earlier this week.) The plan, which was carried out by a California businessman named William Rick Singer, centered around wealthy parents paying bribes to increase their kids chances of attending elite universities like Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA, Yale, and more. 

The methods included paying people to take the SATs and ACTs for their kids, bribing test proctors to correct the tests after completion, and, in perhaps the funniest twist, using "Photoshop and stuff" to fabricate athletic accomplishments for potential students to list on their applications. Yes, that means that photos of students pretending to be athletes were staged, and in some cases the students' heads were just edited onto the bodies of real athletes. University athletic coaches and administrators at certain colleges were also part of the plot, claiming students were "athletes" with totally fake accolades, which would allow them easier access to the schools despite lower test scores. 

How did all these wealthy parents get caught? While it's likely that more details will emerge about the scandal in the coming months -- the whole thing sounds like an HBO documentary or a Netflix series waiting to happen -- we do know that the FBI was involved. The agency infiltrated the conspiracy and obtained recorded phone calls via a cooperating witness, along with emails allegedly showing wrongdoing.  

According to court documents obtained by ABC News, Huffman allegedly made a “purported charitable contribution” of $15,000 for her oldest daughter to "participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme." (She allegedly pursued a similar deal for her younger daughter but backed out; Macy is not named in the documents.) Loughlin on the other hand agreed to "pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team." Shockingly, it turns out they didn't even do crew.

Unsurprisingly, the scandal was met with collective gasps and rapid-firejokes on social media almost immediately after breaking. The court documents, which include moments like one participant asking "Is there any risk that this thing blows up in my face?" are, honestly, incredible reading. Newly relevant old tweets from Huffman and Loughlin, who have yet to publicly comment on the situation, were also recirculated, though Loughlin's Twitter account has since been deleted. That hasn't stopped social media sleuths from finding the accounts belonging to Loughlin's daughter, who quite possibly had no idea she was participating in the scheme (one parent arranged for her son to take a fake ACT test while a substitute took the one that would count as his score).

It's not hard to see why this particular scandal would go viral: celebrities, bribes, and, uh, water polo always make for some good schadenfreude. At the same time, the story also clearly taps into the widely understood idea that the college admissions process and the broader American education system -- one that prioritizes legacy candidates, rewards wealthy students with access to SAT tutors, and mostly exists to nurture the dunderheaded offspring of the powerful -- is a complete joke. (The distinction made by the U.S. Attorney between this scandal and "donating a building" is revealing on a few levels.) Laughter feels appropriate. 

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, get Streamail for more entertainment, and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.