This week, a number of gratuitously wealthy helicopter parents got their comeuppance for conspiring, allegedly, to game a system that already works in favor of (even at the behest of) the privileged. Today the screw continues to turn, bringing us riveting updates in one of the scammiest scams in recent memory.
First up: Gordon Caplan, a lawyer at the high-profile Manhattan law firm, Willkie Farr & Gallagher. On Wednesday, faced with news of its co-chairman's arrest, WF & G announced that Caplan would not be coming back for a while.
"In light of the seriousness of the matter, Mr. Caplan has been placed on a leave of absence from the Firm and will have no further Firm management responsibilities," the firm said, according to the NY Post.
Which, yes, seems like the least it could do, considering the situation. Federal prosecutors indicted Caplan, along with 31 other elite parents, on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud in the course of "Operation Varsity Blues." The court documents extensively excerpt conversations Caplan allegedly had with "Co-operating Witness 1," presumably William Rick Singer, who founded a for-profit college "prep" program called The Key. How did The Key prepare students for college, you ask? By allegedly working with their parents to engineer various admissions scams, possibly without the students' direct knowledge. (Some, it has emerged, definitely did know about the scam, and reportedly reveled in it.)
Caplan, for example, allegedly paid Singer's purported non-profit—The Key Worldwide Foundation, which prosecutors say he set up as a front to launder payments for The Key's services—$75,000 to boost his daughter's chances of getting into Caplan's alma mater, Cornell. In their calls, CW-1 instructs Caplan on how to get his daughter special medical clearance to take "100% extra time" on her ACT (by feigning a learning impediment). That, CW-1 explained, would allow her to take the test with one of his special proctors, who would surreptitiously correct her answers after she handed in her exam. Caplan allegedly agreed to the scheme, after clarifying that he was "not worried about the moral issue," provided CW-1 could actually inflate his daughter's ACT score from an expected 22 (out of a possible 36 points) to something in the 30-to-32 realm. He was arraigned Tuesday in Manhattan, and will next appear in Boston court on March 29th.
Some have argued that the media, the world really, has been too quick to judge devoted parents who only wanted to see their undeserving spawn attend some of the best colleges in the nation. Malcolm Abbott, for example: While smoking a blunt outside his family's Upper East Side home on Fifth Avenue, he told the NY Post to leave his parents—Gregory and Marcia Abbott, who allegedly paid $125,000 to buy their daughter SAT and ACT scores shiny enough to gain her admittance to her school of choice, Duke University—the hell alone.
"They're blowing this whole thing out of proportion," Malcolm told the Post. "I believe everyone has a right to go to college, man." It should be said, longstanding college admission practices—even setting aside this particular scam—have traditionally made it miles easier for wealthy white kids to exercise that right. Malcolm, however, did not; he has embarked on a career as a rapper, stage name Billa, and handed the Post's reporter a demo. One of the five tracks: "If I Lost My Money."
The college cheating scandal extends far beyond New York City, of course; indeed, two high-profile defendants are Hollywood stars. Desperate Housewives actor Felicity Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 for The Key to polish her older daughter's SAT scores, while Full House actor Lori Loughlin and her husband, Massimo Giannulli, allegedly shelled out $500,000 for what's arguably the most bonkers item on the scamming menu: Having The Key fake her two daughters' athletic excellence by cooking up illustrious amateur crew careers. Neither of Loughlin's daughters have any experience in rowing—one, Olivia Jade, is a YouTube vlogger, spon con-slinging influencer, and a current student at the University of Southern California—but The Key had its ways around that pesky problem. When no documentable history of your child playing a highly recruitable sport exists, you can always create one by paying someone to Photoshop your child's head onto a stock image of an athlete! Allegedly!
Loughlin surrendered to federal investigators on Wednesday. When news of the scam broke, Jade was reportedly on a spring break trip—a Bahamas cruise on a yacht owned by her friend's father, who just so happens to sit on USC's board of trustees—but has since returned to Los Angeles.
USC, meanwhile, has announced that it will not admit any applicants implicated in the scam. As for those who, like Jade, have already been admitted, university spokesperson Gary Polakovic told CNN that USC will review their cases individually. The school, he said, will then "make informed, appropriate decisions once those reviews have been completed. Some of these individuals may have been minors at the time of their application process."
Some may have been minors, and some may have had no idea what their parents were up to. Still, it's hard to imagine being so far removed from your own college application process that you don't know you submitted a totally fabricated sports portfolio. In any case, the morals of the story here are that toxic privilege hurts everyone, and as Loughlin once put it to Page Six, you should never "push your kids," because "in life, if you give it your all and do the best you can, that's it! That's all you can do, and that's enough."
— Daniel Powell (@danieljpowell) March 14, 2019