Big dollars do not equal big brains

In this Feb. 28, 2019 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin, center, poses with daughters Olivia Jade Giannulli, left, and Isabella Rose Giannulli in Beverly Hills, Calif. Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

In this Feb. 28, 2019 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin, center, poses with daughters Olivia Jade Giannulli, left, and Isabella Rose Giannulli in Beverly Hills, Calif. Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Rich people are no smarter than the rest of us. They’re just better at cheating.

That’s the message I got when I learned that 50 people, including CEO’s, political contributors and Hollywood actresses, were involved in a $25 million-dollar scheme to get their spoiled kids into colleges they weren’t qualified to attend.

Remember when cheating meant writing the answers down in the palm of your hand and hoping they stayed there long enough for you to copy them down?

Well, according to a federal indictment, that’s not how the rich folks do it. Federal prosecutors allege that dozens of people across six states cheated on standardized tests, bribed those who decided which students got admitted, and even doctored photos in order to get students into schools with false athletic credentials.

Federal prosecutors said William Singer, the man at the center of the scheme who pleaded guilty Tuesday to numerous federal counts including conspiracy, helped parents to cheat their way into top colleges using various means.

One plot involved parents paying test administrators to give their children unlimited time to take the SAT. In other cases, they paid someone $10,000 to take the test for them. Sometimes, they even paid coaches to get their kids into the schools as athletes.

In one case, Singer helped parents to fake their daughter’s athletic credentials by taking pictures of her on a rowing machine to back the false claim that she was qualified to be on the crew team at USC.

In another case, a coach was paid $400,000 to pretend a girl was going to play soccer for Yale. Only the girl was never an athlete, and she’d never played competitive soccer in her life.

She got into Yale anyway.

So when these colleges claim your children are unqualified, when they claim your children aren’t smart enough, when they claim your child is not college material, remind them that Becky got in because her parents had $400,000 dollars, and kids in the hood don’t get in because they’ve got 400,000 problems.

Of course, the people involved in this are facing serious charges. Singer’s guilty plea includes charges to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.

The FBI even has tapes of two Hollywood actresses making deals to get their kids into college by paying bribes and gaming the system.

Lori Loughlin, who played in the ’90s sitcom “Full House,” and Felicity Huffman, who starred in the ABC hit show “Desperate Housewives,” were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud.

There are many ways in which federal law enforcement officials can seek justice for these crimes, but here’s what I suggest. We should make every parent who participated in this go to court the way poor people do — with public defenders who have thirty other clients and are not equipped to put up an adequate defense.

Paying bribes to help rich kids get into schools for which they are not qualified hurts poor kids who face barriers at every turn. So maybe instead of starring on shows like Desperate Housewives, the actresses, CEO’s and others who engaged in this plot should make a cameo on the real-life version of “Orange is the New Black.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.