Over 50 people, including celebrities, CEOs, and administrators, have been charged following the long-running college admissions scandal. Those charged paid over $25 million to ensure their children were admitted to elite universities, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, and the University of Southern California, despite the students not having the qualifying credentials. Among those charged, the most notable are Lori Loughlin, from “Full House,” her husband and fashion designer, Mossimo Giannulli, and Felicity Huffman, from “Desperate Housewives.” Loughlin and Giannulli were indicted for allegedly paying $500,000 to have their two daughters designated as crew recruits to guarantee admission to USC, despite neither girl ever having done crew. Huffman, meanwhile, was indicted for allegedly paying an organization $15,000 to help her daughter cheat on the SAT.
The charges for the parents include racketeering, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, money laundering conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. At the heart of this recent story and scandal are several fraud charges. Mail fraud and wire fraud are broad terms that cover any scheme sent via mail or wire intended to deprive someone else of money or assets using fraudulent means. Examples include investment scams, “foreign inheritance” emails, and Ponzi schemes. These charges are punishable through federal law. Mail fraud uses U.S. mail or a private mail carrier to defraud someone for money, property, or what is referred to as “honest services.” If you are convicted of mail fraud, you could spend up to 20 years in federal prison and be ordered to pay a substantial fine. Wire fraud is very similar to mail fraud, but instead uses the phone, fax, email, and other electronic communications to carry out a fraudulent scheme. The potential penalties are the same as a mail fraud conviction.
While mail and wire fraud are dealt with at the federal level, Florida law addresses some of the serious offenses the parents have been charged with, including racketeering. In fact, Florida’s RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act closely mirrors that of the Federal RICO Act. A violation of Florida’s RICO Act alleges participating in an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering. The crime is charged as a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years. Florida law defines “racketeering activity” as soliciting, coercing, or intimidating another person to commit criminal charges.