Operation Varsity Blues Reveals Parents on Tape Admitting to Offering Bribes

Justice.gov; Fatherly Illustration

The involvement of actresses Felicity Huffman and Lara Loughlin is leading many of the stories about the nationwide college admissions scandal, but the more interesting story is how the wealthy — no matter the source of their income — schemed to give their kids an unfair edge. The criminal complaint is loaded with partial transcripts of calls between parents and one of the FBI’s cooperating witnesses, known as CW-1 in the complaint. They discuss everything from how the scam worked to the cover-up to how to answer tough questions from their suspicious children.

We went through the 204-page complaint and picked out the most entertaining passages, the ones that best illuminate the audacity and mendacity of the 33 parents now facing federal charges for their role in the scheme.

Elizabeth Henriquez

The wife of a hedge fund CEO falls for a tactic seen throughout the complaint is CW-1 calling a parent, claiming the fraudulent foundation set up to accept payments is being audited, and wanting to make sure both parties tell the same story.

CW-1: So I just want to make sure that you and I are on the same page–

E. HENRIQUEZ: Okay.

CW-1: –in case they were to call.

E. HENRIQUEZ: So what’s your story?

CW-1: So my story is, essentially, that you gave your money to our foundation to help underserved kids.

E. HENRIQUEZ: You– Of course.

CW-1: And–

E. HENRIQUEZ: Those kids have to go to school.

CW-1: Absolutely.

William F. McGlashan, Jr.

A private equity fund executive laughs at the thought of his son being an NFL-caliber punter while scheming to convince USC that his son is…an NFL-caliber punter.

CW-1: You got an NFL punter?

McGLASHAN: I did. That’s just totally hilarious. So he– so this is for, so, the one part you were garbled at the beginning is, the school doesn’t have a football team, meaning, obviously [USC] does. What does that mean?

CW-1: Your high school.

McGLASHAN: Oh, the high school. Yes, of course. Got it.

CW-1: So they asked me, “What sport could we put him through?” And I said, “Well, I don’t want, you know,” ’cause your school doesn’t have football it’s easy, because I can say, because they have all these kicking camps and these kickers always get picked up outside of the school–

McGLASHAN: Yeah perfect. Perfect.

CW-1: So I’m gonna make him a kicker.

McGLASHAN: (laughs) He does have really strong legs

CW-1: (laughs) Well, this will be for– this will be good for one of the–

McGLASHAN: Maybe he’ll– maybe he’ll become a kicker. You never know.

CW-1: Yeah! Absolutely.

McGLASHAN: You could inspire him, [CW-1]. You may actually turn him into something. I love it.

Marjorie Klapper

The co-owner of a jewelry business gets her story straight.

CW-1: So I jus– I just want to make sure that you and I are on the same page. ’Cause, of course, I’m not gonna tell the IRS that– that, you know, you paid 15,000 for [CW-2] to take the test for [your son], obviously. So I just wanted to make sure that you and I are on the same page, in case you get a call.

KLAPPER: Okay. So if I get a call–

CW-1: You’re gonna say that the– the $15,000 that you paid to our foundation was to help underserved kids.

KLAPPER: Okay.

CW-1: So that’s what our foundation does.

KLAPPER: Mm-hmm.

CW-1: So I just wanted to make sure that our stories were aligned.

KLAPPER: Okay. Got it. Yeah.

Agustin Huneeus, Jr.

A Napa Valley vintner wonders why, given what he paid, his daughter couldn’t have received a higher score.

CW-1: The whole world is scamming the system. And I got ’em, ’cause I have a ton of kids who have extended time and they shouldn’t get extended time.

HUNEEUS: No, I know you do. I kn– I know your system well. I wha– what my concern is, wha– what I’m trying to understand is that I, it feels like, you know, you, you have a plan for the system, so you know, if you had wanted to, I mean [my daughter’s] score could have been 1550 right?

CW-1: No. ’Cause I would have got investigated for sure based on her grades.

HUNEEUS: Okay.

CW-1: Absolutely, th– now we got a bigger problem.

HUNEEUS: Mm-hmm.

CW-1: Now she’s gonna have to take it at her school in front of everybody.

HUNEEUS: Okay.

CW-1: And now when she gets 1100, 1200, now what do we do?

HUNEEUS: Oh huh. Um.

Bruce Isackson

A commercial real estate agent gets nervous about bad publicity.

B. ISACKSON: Oh, yeah. I’m just thinking, oh my God, because you’re thinking, does this roll into something where, you know, if they get into the meat and potatoes, is this gonna be this– be the front page story with everyone from Kleiner Perkins do whatever, getting these kids into school, and–

CW-1: Well, the, the person who’d be on the front page–

B. ISACKSON: Well, I, I– But if– but they, they —

CW-1: Yes.

B. ISACKSON: –went the meat and potatoes of it, which a– which a guy would love to have is, it’s so hard for these kids to get into college, and here’s– look what– look what’s going on behind the schemes, and then, you know, the, the embarrassment to everyone in the communities. Oh my God, it would just be– Yeah. Ugh.

Robert Zangrillo

A Miami commercial real estate developer assures the cooperating witness that his daughter won’t spill the beans.

CW-1: All right, but one thing I want to make sure is when she– if the– ’cause this has happened with other kids is–

ZANGRILLO: Mm-hmm.

CW-1: –they get to the [USC undergraduate] advisor, and the advisor say[s], “By the way, you were admitted through athletics. Are you competing in a sport?” And, and we know that– and we don’t– what I don’t want her to say, or anything like this, is that she got in through athletics– she got in because of a payment to athletics, which I know —

ZANGRILLO: Right.

CW-1: –that she won’t– right?

ZANGRILLO: Right. No, she won’t say that.

CW-1: Okay. And then we should be fine.

John B. Wilson

An investment firm CEO giggles through approving a bribe for the sailing coach at Stanford.

CW-1: So I had a conversation with the Stanford sailing coach and, so I just gave the Stanford sailing coach [$]160,000 for his program and while we were having that conversation I said, “Hey, I’m hoping that this 160 that I’m helping you with helps secure a spot for next year. Can I be guaranteed a spot for next year?” And he said, “Yes.”

WILSON: [inaudible] all it takes?

CW-1: So– no, no, no, no. That’s not all it takes.

WILSON: Okay. (Laughter)

CW-1: This is not TJ Maxx or Marshall’s or something like that. So–

WILSON: Right.

CW-1: So essentially if you’re– I want you to have first dibs, like I told you. So if you want I can provide John Vandemoer– which I’m going to essentially send John directly the check, to the coach. I can send him your [$]500,000 that you wired into my account to secure the spot for one of your girls. I asked him for a second spot in sailing and he said he can’t do that because he has to actually recruit some real sailors so that Stanford doesn’t–

WILSON: (Laughter)

CW-1: –catch on.

WILSON: Right.

Elizabeth Kimmel

The owner and chief executive of a media company worries that her son will figure out how she illegally helped him.

KIMMEL’S SPOUSE: So [my son] and I just got back from [U]SC Orientation. It went great. The only kind of glitch was, and I– he didn’t– [my son] didn’t tell me this at the time– but yesterday when he went to meet with his advisor, he stayed after a little bit, and the– apparently the advisor said something to the effect of, “Oh, so you’re a track athlete?” And [my son] said, “No.” ’Cause, so [my son] has no idea, and that’s what– the way we want to keep it.

CW-1: Right.

SPOUSE: So he said, “No, I’m not.” So she goes, “It has it down that you’re a track athlete.” And he said, “Well I’m not.” She goes, “Oh, okay, well I have to look into that.”

Michelle Janavs

A former food manufacturing executive struggles to make sure her honest, hardworking younger daughter unknowingly gets the same unfair advantage that her less honest, less hardworking older daughter did.

JANAVS: Yes, so I got that, the only thing is h– [my younger daughter] is not like [my older daughter]. I’m not [inaudible] works. She’s not stupid. So if I said to her, “Oh, well, we’re going to take it up at [CW-1]’s,” she’s going to wonder why. How do you do this without telling the kids what you’re doing?

CW-1: Oh, in most cases, Michelle, none of the kids know.

JANAVS: No, I know that.

CW-1: Essentially what happens is they take the test with a proctor like they normally do and w–, and then so they take the test, they leave, and then the proctor looks at what she’s already done and then whatever number that we’re trying to get, that’s what he works to get. So she doesn’t even know.

[…]

JANAVS: Okay. Okay. Right, I see. Okay. Okay. Okay. Yeah, they’re not stupid either, but whatever, I don’t care. They can’t say anything to me. I mean they’re going to be suspicious that every kid I have does so well somewhere else, but that’s okay. So we’ll, I just didn’t– I just didn’t want to have this conversation with [my younger daughter].

CW-1: No, no, totally get it, yeah. No, I totally get it.

JANAVS: She’s totally different than [my older daughter]. Like she needs to really think she d– [my older daughter] is like, “This test is such bullshit. I don’t really care. I don’t ever want to take it.” But [my younger daughter] is like actually studying to try and get a 34.

CW-1: Got it. Got it.

JANAVS: So it would– it would actually be a great boost to her. And [my older daughter] came to me and she says, “You’re not going to tell [my sister], are you?” I was like, “No.” Weird– weird family dynamics, but every kid is different.

CW-1: Cool.

[…]

JANAVS: So I have a question for you. I’m trying to figure out how best to deal with [my younger daughter] on this. So [my daughter] has said to me, “I’m gonna get a 34 on this ACT,” or “I’m gonna keep taking it till I get a 34.” And I’m like, “[Daughter], what if you got like a 32 or a 33?” She’s like, “W– no. I would take it till I get a 34.” I don’t know if that’s true, but she’s fucking driving me nuts. But what I don’t want to happen is us to say– she gets a 33 and her go, “I’m gonna take it again.”

CW-1: I gotcha. Oh, I totally get that.

JANAVS: I’m like– you know, I just want this one done. And I don’t know if she’s serious. Because she’s not scoring that well on these.

CW-1: Right.

JANAVS: So I don’t know if she’s serious that she would take it again. I mean, I think a 34 might be a little high. But at the same time, maybe it’s like, screw it, just give her the damn 40– 34, so that we don’t have to worry about her saying, “I’m taking it again.”

CW-1: Totally agree.

Stephen Semprevivo

An executive at a sales team outsourcer gets nervous and denies the obvious quid pro quo.

SEMPREVIVO: You know, all I know is that we, you know, we used you for the charity stuff and we used you for the counseling, and your dealings are your dealings. And so, you know.

CW-1: No I get that. And I understand that, but at the same time we were all a part of–

SEMPREVIVO: No, I don’t agree with that at all. You–

CW-1: You don’t agree that we got him in through tennis and you didn’t know that [inaudible]?

SEMPREVIVO: I don’t. I don’t. I do– you know, you did what you did, [CW-1], and that was your stuff. Okay? So–

CW-1: Okay.

SEMPREVIVO: –I think, I think that that’s how, you know, you did what you did and so I’m not going to take accountability for your actions and I think that, you know, you need to be accountable for [inaudible]–

CW-1: And I’m– absolutely. I’m totally accountable that I got him in through tennis and that you guys were aware of it, but I’m totally aware of it and I’m totally– accept the responsibility that I used my relationship and made [your son] a tennis player. And we all agreed that that’s what we were going to do.

SEMPREVIVO: You know, I don’t have any details, but I think that, I think that you need to be accountable for what you did. So I don’t want to talk about this any more because, you know, I think there were two separate things. And, we used you and we donated. We donated as a charity, and it was a good charity and we were excited we could help you and, you know, in terms of, you know, how you do favors for people separately that’s, you know, I– we appreciate any help you gave us. But, you know, we used you in terms of the, you know, in terms of your college stuff. We paid you well for the, you know, for the work you did there separately. So, and we appreciate it. So, I think that, you know, if you’re trying to turn something around in terms of, you know, what you did and how you did it then I don’t want to be, I don’t want to be a part of that.