Federal agents unraveled a massive criminal enterprise in which wealthy parents paid bribes to get their kids into elite schools. One of the ringleaders is from the Tampa Bay area.
It’s the largest admissions scam ever prosecuted by the federal government.
The US Justice Department has charged 50 people, including Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Authorities say wealthy parents paid bribes to help their kids get accepted to some of the country’s best universities.
“Cheating on college entrance exams, meaning the SAT and the ACT, and second, securing admission to elite colleges by bribing coaches at those schools to accept certain students under false pretenses,” said Andrew Lelling, US Attorney in Massachusetts.
“Make no mistake, this is not a case where parents were acting in the best interests in their children. This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense, to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy. Literally,” said FBI Agent Joseph Bonavolonta.
One of the co-conspirators was Mark Riddell. Since 2006 he served as the Director of College Exam Preparation at IMG Academy.
According to court documents, as far back as 2011, he would accept bribes to help students pass the ACT or SAT exams.
In one instance, he learned how to mimic a student’s handwriting. In many cases, he would fly out from Florida and take the test in their place.
Officials say he was paid $10,000 per test.
Riddell was not available for comment, and his profile is no longer active on the IMG website.
Parents are shocked.
“Kinda crazy that people even thought to do that in the first place. Wouldn’t you want your child to succeed on their own merit?” said Danielle Walker.
Riddell has pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and conspiiracy to commit money laundering. He must forfeit $239,449.42.
IMG Academy issued the following statement to News Channel 8 late Tuesday:
Today we were made aware of the charges against Mark Riddell. Riddell has been suspended indefinitely as we investigate this matter.