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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.

Another Day, Another School Shooting, Another Killing

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

assaultweapons (1)Days after the 17 minute school walk out in protest of gun violence and on the week of the Washington, DC March for Life on Saturday, March 24, another school shooting occurs.  This time, the shooting occurred at Great Mills High school in a small town in southern Maryland with the shooter, a teenage student, shooting a 16 year old girl and a 14 year old boy—all students.  They survived. The shooter died. Instead of an assault rifle, this time it was a Glock semiautomatic. Motive or target was yet undetermined.  So far, it was the 17th school shooting since January 1, 2018, according to CNN.

 

After hearing about the school shooting in St. Mary’s County, Maryland on Tuesday, March 20, I recalled the first time when  I appeared in a court case in St. Mary’s.  The court house is located in Leonardtown, MD which is a very small sleepy little town.  I am sure that nothing much in the way of crime happens in St. Mary’s. Nearby Leonardtown where the Circuit Court lies has a population of roughly 2,000. Great Mills is much larger with just over 8000 residents.  These towns in St. Mary’s are hardly metropolitan cities or even near a metropolitan city.  Once again, like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High school, the area is one where a school shooting would likely appear to be out of the ordinary. Except in this day and time, no school is out of the ordinary for a shooting to occur.  The cycle of wash, rinse, repeat when it comes to gun violence continues in schools, churches, movies, malls and on neighborhood streets.  And the same cycle continues when it comes to actions taken by politicians to help stymie the gun violence in America.

 

As a former prosecutor, the story of guns, gun violence, shootings and death are not new news.  According to the American Bar Association, in 2013, there were over 11,200 murders with firearms. African Americans suffered 57% of all murders with firearms, even though blacks only make up 13% of the U.S. population. In contrast with other countries, in 2010, there were 17 firearm deaths in Finland; 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales; 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany and 200 in Canada.

We know the problem.  We also know some of the solutions.  We just lack the ability to combine gun problem with solution in a meaningful way.  There is no one solution size fits all when it comes to different types of gun violence.  One thing is for sure, more guns are not the answer.  Ditto for arming teachers.

 

Besides banning assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, increasing age to purchase a firearm to age 21, denial of gun purchases due to serious mental health issues and domestic violence orders, tightening gun permit laws on  three day wait at gun shows, restricting guns at sensitive places including colleges, churches, county owned property, we need to restrict sales of guns by private individuals.

We should also look to those other countries who have so few murders, albeit they don’t have the NRA and the second amendment to contend with.   In 1996, both Britain and Australia had mass shootings.  In 1996, a lone shooter entered a school in Scotland and killed 16 -five and six-year-old children plus a teacher.  And in the same year in Australia, a man killed 35 people in a mass shooting at a cafe.  Both Britain and Australia had a major crackdown on gun laws and passed sensible gun laws.  Our legislators haven’t reached the boiling point where they will enact gun laws to save lives.

What appears different and just may work now is the pressure being exerted by the voices of young persons who have experienced gun violence all their lives.  And those voices are not limited to school gun violence but to gun violence in the urban cities and in places like St. Mary’s County.  No place is immune to gun violence.  No one is safe.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial attorney, legal analyst and former prosecutor who is frequently seen in the media addressing gun laws and crimes.