“College Admissions Scandal Symptoms of a Greater Problem”

“College Admissions Scandal Symptoms of a Greater Problem” March 12, 2019 (Jirard Criminal Law & Procedure: A Courtroom Perspective, offenders, pp. 18-20; attempt and conspiracy, pp. 87-90; mail and wire fraud, pp. 140-145).

All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

My old office, the U.S. Attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, made news this week in publishing criminal complaints alleging wealthy parents, coaches, and administrators had conspired for young people to submit fraudulent college applications to gain admission to some of the top schools in the country. Let’s think like a lawyer and examine how strain theory might cause people to become (possible) federal felons.

First, people who commit crimes suffer from distorted thinking. Exhibit 1from the affidavit of probable cause supporting the arrests of the rich and famous: why would actress Lori Loughlin spend $500,000 to submit fake profiles to get her daughters accepted to University of Southern California (USC) as recruited athletes? People in Los Angeles are intimate with the details of USC football hero Orenthal James (OJ) Simpson’s 1996 acquittal on 2 counts of murder and saw the evidence, reprinted above, of a USC education for athletes. After abusing his wife Nicole Brown Simpson, OJ wrote in a 1989 letter of apology, OJ wrote

“I love you and loosing [sic] you is the only thing that matded [sic] to me. So lets [sic] not forget the past. Lets [sic] work together (for the first time) to improve the futrr [sic] live [sic] together. Know [sic] manner [sic] what I love you.”

In fairness to USC, OJ transferred there as a junior and may have left for the Buffalo Bills before earning a degree, but half-a-million dollars to just get into USC (never mind 4 years of tuition and fees for 2 kids)??

Second, people who commit crimes take actions to avoid detection. When attorney Gordon Caplan was negotiating his daughter’s ACT score, the criminal mastermind William Singer suggested the score 33 but Caplan balked and said 32, since his daughter had only been scoring a 22 on practice tests. Caplan knew a too big jump in scores is a red flag for testing authorities, and Caplan directed Singer not to make his cheating too obvious.

Third, the parents have been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Mail and wire fraud are closely related crimes that seek to punish those who would take advantage of others by a “scheme to defraud.” Public corruption cases are often prosecuted as mail fraud because one of the intangible things a criminal can rob from the public is the benefit of an official’s “honest services,” here depriving regular college applicants the honest services of the admissions process by bribing coaches and other officials.

Last, criminals lack foresight. In seeking to elevate their own status through their kids’ elite college admission, the parents have branded their kids as liars and cheaters forever. Crime does not pay.

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