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College Admissions Scandal Goes to Court

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Felicity Huffman – Creative Commons

On Wed. April 3, defendants Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and other lesser known celebrities and parents will appear in a federal court in Boston to appear before a judge at their preliminary hearing. The two actresses along with more than 30 other individuals are charged with crimes of using money to gain admission to elite colleges for their children in amounts up to over $1 million. In some alleged instances, the defendants paid a bogus charity to fake athletic activities, cheat on college entrance exams and through other nefarious means to gain college acceptance. The old fashion way of study hard, get good grades and/or work hard at athletics wasn’t working for them. So they chose the side door entrance.

It’s one thing for actors to use celebrity status and money to gain admission into exclusive parties and events via the side door. It’s quite another thing to use celebrity status and money to fake their children’s test scores and school activities to gain admission into elite colleges through the side door. The second one is illegal.

On Wed. April 3, a preliminary hearing will take place on the case of actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman and others on the allegations of paying money anywhere from $15,000 to over $1 million to get their children accepted into elite schools, through numerous alleged nefarious schemes. The prosecution’s case will be set forth during the preliminary hearing with an actual indictment to likely follow by April 11.With so many defendants charged—over 30, there will likely be defendants who will ultimately turn into government witnesses to lessen their charges and imposition of jail time.

At the end of the day, it remains to be seen if celebrity status will be helpful as in the case of Jussie Smollett getting a light slap on the wrist. In reality, most non-violent defendants without a prior criminal record usually receive probation, some form of community service, fines and other forms of restitution, if warranted. In this case, if the defendants filed any charitable deductions on their tax returns for monies given to the bogus company assisting in the fraud, they will have a separate day of reckoning case with the IRS.

As a former prosecutor, the case concerns me on so many levels. Here are parents who could pay for the best schools, best tutors, best college prep courses and best private middle schools to gain the upper edge. The fact that they chose the easy illegal way out is disgusting. It slaps in the face of what my parents and many others taught their children–to work hard, study hard, get good grades and do well in athletics and school activities, if inclined that way. In doing so, these students took away the opportunity of another well deserving student who played by the book. And even though there may be students who can file a lawsuit to challenge their lack of admission, there is no justifiable way to prove that these students would have been admitted without the scandalous students’ admission.

On another level, there are often cases where affirmative action is challenged for students of color at elite schools. Affirmative action is not a gift or illegal give away. In light of the college scheme scandal, I would hope that persons would refrain from questioning whether minorities earned the right to attend certain colleges and universities.

As for the privileged children of these parents, they should be charged if they knew that they were given an upper hand with test taking and test scores. They should be charged with fraud right along with their parents.

Updates will follow after Wednesday’s preliminary hearing. An indictment is likely to follow before April 11, 2019.

Stay tuned.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, criminal attorney and former prosecutor.

WUSA 9 Interviews Debbie Hines on Mueller Report

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

Alas, the long awaited Special Counsel Robert Mueller report was released to Attorney General William Barr.  Although the report reportedly contained over 700 pages, Attorney General Barr wrote a 4 page summary of its contents. To say that wasn’t scratching the surface would be a severe understatement.

The American people deserve to see its full contents.  The report looked into two questions–whether there was a conspiracy or coordination between Trump, the Trump campaign and the Russian government during our 2016 presidential election;  And whether there was an obstruction of justice by Donald Trump into the Russian investigation.

Until the report is released, we cannot speculate about its contents. We are just as in the dark as before the report was released.   WUSA 9 anchor Bruce Johnson interviewed me on my take on the Mueller report.

 

Manafort’s Sentence and the Luck of White Privilege

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Paul Manafort – Creative Commons

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was sentenced today in federal court in the District of Columbia by Judge Amy Berman Jackson. I have had the occasion to appear before Judge Jackson representing defendants. She is known for being fair. And she is not a pushover judge as Judge T.S. Ellis, III, Manafort’s judge in his Alexandria, VA case. Judge Elliot gave Manafort a light sentence more than a decade below the sentencing guidelines of 19- 24 years. Judge Ellis sentenced Manafort to less than five years.

Manafort faced a maximum of 10 years before Judge Jackson. Judge Jackson let it be known in court today that Manafort had a contempt for the court proceedings and our American democracy by his acts. While Manafort’s last week’s sentence sickened me, Judge Jackson today stated that the truth and facts matter. The real issue was whether the sentence would run in addition to the sentence last week or run along with the prior sentence—to shorten his term in prison.

The case is really a tale of two judges and how the court system works in favor of white collar and white privileged defendants. Judge Ellis last week stated that other than the charges, Manafort had left an otherwise routine life. Manafort made $60 million out of his deals and failed to pay taxes on much of it. Out of the money, he bought lavish homes, $20,000 suits, yet had very little left by the time of his court woes. Judge Jackson made clear that she is not pleased with Manafort’s shenanigans after being charged—his lying to prosecutors under a plea agreement to cooperate.

Paul Manafort for the first time apologized for his acts. He begged Judge Jackson to be able to have a lighter sentence and stay home with his wife. Judge Jackson told Manafort before sentencing that he squandered the chance for a lighter sentence—yet she gave him a lighter sentence anyway.

On the possible maximum sentence of 10 years, Judge Jackson stated that 30 months of her sentence must by law run concurrent with the Virginia sentence last week. On count one -conspiracy charge, Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort to 60 months with 30 months running concurrent (meaning to run alongside of) with the Virginia sentence last week. Manafort dodged the bullet of the maximum 10 years. With regards to the witness tampering count, Judge Jackson sentenced Manafort to 13 months, to run consecutive (in addition to) with count one and the VA sentence.

As I read the sentence, Manafort will serve 43 months or 3 ½ years in addition to the Virginia 4- year sentence. Roughly, Manafort would serve 7 years. Without a pardon, Manafort faces a prison term until he is 77 years old. While parts of  the sentencing may be in addition to the Virginia sentence last week, Manafort still received a light sentence, considering what he could have likely received. His sentence was still less than what the federal guidelines called for.

The fraud on the American public committed by Manafort shows that crime does pay if you are rich, white and privileged in America. This is not a reflection on Judge Jackson—but on the overall criminal white-collar system which gives breaks to white collar, white privileged defendants but throws the book at African American defendants, mostly men and persons of color, even when committing white collar crimes.

Setting aside Manafort’s sentence, when he was in jail pending trial, he had access to computers and an almost suite like room in the prison, instead of a one room jail cell. To say that he received extra privileges would be an understatement. Manafort caught a break both during his time awaiting sentencing and during sentencing, last week and before Judge Jackson today.

To be an old, white and privileged man in America works very well in the criminal justice system. Paul Manafort did not deserve the break he received for the crimes he committed. The ultimate snub to the criminal justice system and to the American people will be if Donald Trump pardons Manafort.  No matter what happens, Paul Manafort is the poster boy for white privileged males.

UPDATE: At the same time of his sentencing, Paul Manafort was indicted on state charges  in New York for which Trump cannot pardon him, if convicted.

Washington, DC Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer who appears before the U.S. District Court and is a former prosecutor.

College Cheating Scam and White Privilege

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

Felicity Huffman – Creative Commons

The largest college cheating admissions scam was announced today by the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts with over 50 persons being charged including actress Felicity Huffman, college coaches, SAT administrators, exam proctors and 33 parents.  Parents involved paid upwards of over $6.5 million for their children to be admitted to various elite schools including Yale, Georgetown, Wake Forest and others.  It was the ultimate example of wealth and privilege being used to secure the futures of the teens involved.  The end result is what many minorities and persons of color expected for a long time.  The system is rigged in  terms of wealth and privilege.

Every parent should teach their children to refrain from lying, cheating and stealing. When the parents lie, cheat and steal for their children to gain admission to prestigious U.S. schools with or without the child’s knowledge, it shows what many persons of color have already suspected all along—that some white privileged children gain an undue and undeserved advantage in college admissions.

Many African American students who have attended/graduated from a prestigious college or university, from President Obama down to myself are often faced with the obvious question/sneer or look from many whites that they took the seat of a qualified white student—due to lower admission standards or grades—or through affirmative action. Trump even demanded that Pres. Obama provide his college transcript and test scores to show his worthiness to attend Harvard.  Meanwhile, Trump, a likely mediocre student himself allowed his fixer Michael Cohen to threaten universities from releasing Trump’s grades or scores. The hypocrisy of white privilege often astounds me.

While many minorities have often suspected that some white students with inferior grades or test scores could somehow gain entrance to many prestigious colleges, it was not exactly understood how the process worked—before today’s case.  It is suspected that the rigged system has been going on for at least a decade. That is likely an understatement. Actress Felicity Huffman and these white parents of privilege, access and money had every available means and income to hire the very  best tutors, best study materials and courses and best private middle schools for their children but chose to take the easy way out and buy their child’s way into college—up to $6.5 million a pop.

From the President lying every day for his own advantage to these wealthy white parents lying to advance their child’s education cause, we have to wonder if we as a society have lost our moral compass  and sense of decency. The fact that college personnel, SAT administrators, proctors and college coaches contributed to the scheme is all the more telling that wealth and white privilege works—until you get caught. Everyone was in on the deal at all levels.

No matter what, the hypocrisy of the situation is not lost on minority students and people of color—blaming children of color for taking a white child’s seat due to inferior grades/scores when in this case, it was the mediocre white students who took the seat of a well-deserving student—and perhaps many students of color over a period of years. Those students who knew of the scheme and participated must be charged as well – to right the wrong.  A student who has someone else take  a test on his or her behalf knows they are cheating. A student with no athletic skills knows when a fake profile is used to show his athletic skills.

I suspect this case is just the tipping of the iceberg with others to come and be charged.  Lives have forever been changed in the process. I speak of those deserving students who were denied admission at the colleges of their choice because their parents had no money to pay to play.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor. She often appears in the media as a legal analyst.

 

 

 

 

R. Kelly May Be Flying to Jail Soon

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

R. Kelly has long avoided prosecution and conviction for his allegedly long known sex crimes against minors and young women. On Oscar weekend, in a made for TV movie moment, his free time may soon be coming to an end. In  a surprise move, according to the Chicago Sun Times, today the Cook County state’s attorney charged R. Kelly with 10 counts of aggravated sex abuse.  A Cook County Grand Jury indicted Kelly. The charges stem from 4 victims who were under age and involve incidents that occurred between 1998 and 2010.  Aggravated criminal sex abuse is a felony which carries a range of 3-7 years if convicted.

R. Kelly has avoided conviction in a past trial but the tide may be changing. His time may soon be up. He is the sex pied piper of young underage girls of lewd sex acts and alleged imprisonment, according to many reports and a recent documentary, Surviving R. Kelly. Despite past allegations, women of all ages still flock to his concerts. And his song, I Believe I could Fly is routinely played on many Black gospel radio stations across the country every Sunday.

In a made for TV movie twist, porn star Stormy Daniels’s attorney, may be the reason for the charges being placed. Michael Avenatti allegedly produced (and/or represents) one women who may have given Cook County Grand Jury testimony. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

Two other women who were under age at the time allege sex acts at a Baltimore concert in 1995. If so, Kelly could face charges in Baltimore—if the statute of limitations is not expired. Felony sex offenses have no statute of limitations in Maryland. As a former Baltimore prosecutor, I have prosecuted sex crimes. They are tough crimes to obtain a conviction. The Baltimore women may have some proof of their attending the concert in 1995. And with the tape of the Cook County incidents and perhaps willingness of the victims to testify, it may prove easier.  The past case against Kelly resulted in a not guilty verdict.

The documentary Surviving R. Kelly may have paved the way for a fresh look at the singer’s alleged sex crimes and for women to now come forward. If so, Kelly could become the new Bill Cosby—albeit with young under aged (at the time of the offenses) and mostly Black victims. The Baltimore and Chicago cases may be just the tipping point for Kelly. And in another interesting plot twist, both Baltimore and Chicago (Cook County) have Black women prosecutors, Marilyn Mosby and Kimberly Foxx leading the charge.

Kelly’s Chicago court appearance is March 8.

Will All Black Face Wearing Politicians Stand?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2019

VA AG Mark Herring- Creative Commons

In the few days since we discovered that VA Governor Ralph Northam wore black face in a 1984 medical school year book photo while standing next to a costumed KKK member, VA Attorney General Mark Herring admits to wearing black face in college. Herring apologized.

As an African American, I know this racist problem is something that is not indicative of just Virginia politicians, Democrats or Republicans. It is indicative of white America. While many white Americans may not have worn black face, many still do not understand the pain it causes for many African Americans. And the racial backlash against African Americans continues today, without one having to wear black face.

The fact that whites believe it is appropriate to post photos wearing black face whether in college, medical school or elsewhere shows the race divide in America. These photos cut to the core of emotional pain for many African Americans. While for many white Americans, wearing black face is hilarity at the expense of Blacks.

Megan Kelly was fired from the Today show because she commented that she saw nothing wrong with wearing black face. Obviously, she was not alone in her thinking. VA Governor Ralph Northam faces resignation calls by nearly every politician except former Congressman Jim Web (D.VA).

Just as sexual harassment was once common place in the work place and elsewhere, it was never acceptable to women. Likewise, wearing black face may have been acceptable in certain white circles, it was never acceptable to African Americans. Just as women are not being too sensitive about sexual assaults, blacks are not being too sensitive about racism in America.

White actors and musicians during the time of slavery and up to an including into the 1900’s would cover their faces in black dye and create stereotypical and racist portrayals of slaves and African Americans. The representations would show blacks as being inferior to whites, being sub- intelligent with a low IQ and being less than human, childlike and acting like buffoons. The white Black faced actors and musicians played parts and sang in ways to dehumanize and ridicule African Americans, making them the butt of jokes for white audiences. These portrayals were funny to whites but degrading to African Americans.

For those who miss the racial tone of black face, consider the fact that many African Americans dress up in costume on occasion disguised as white persons. Most Blacks do not feel the need to smear white shoe polish on their faces in caricature. There is an undeniable racist element to black face.

There is nothing illegal about the use of Black face by white Americans. However, to many African Americans, it amounts to a betrayal by those politicians who they believed to be an ally on race issues. On a grading scale, the black face by Herring does not rise to the level of Ralph Northam’s photo complete with KKK member. However, we don’t need to give grades for racially insensitive and racist photographs. What we need are discussions.

Both Herring and Northam’s depictures of black face show the real need for discussions on race in America and white privileged thinking. Former Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking during Black History month in 2009, said that we are a “nation of cowards” on issues involving race. We never see the need to discuss race until the next event occurs. And then we punt on it until the next event. I suspect the same will be true of these incidences.

Maybe it’s time for all politicians who used Black face, laughed while someone else used black face or ever thought about using black face step forward. And maybe, it’s time to begin the race discussion in earnest. Like talking to your child about sex, it’s a very difficult topic to discuss. The race discussion is a necessary albeit a difficult and painful one.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is an attorney and former prosecutor. She appears regularly in the media on topics of law and politics intersecting at race and gender.