Remember the Before Times? An era when we were enraptured by Chicken Sandwich Wars and the precise definition of the Latin phrase “quid pro quo”? Or, Chris Evans’ cable knit and the travails of local grifter Anna Delvey? Perhaps the pandemic has made my memory a hazy, dreamlike slush of events, to the point that I feel like these iconic historical moments feel like another world. What I can recall, though, in precise detail, is the FBI sting the feds aptly dubbed Operation Varsity Blues (opens in new tab), the subject of a new Netflix documentary of the same name.
First unveiled to the public almost two years ago to this day, the scandal is the kind of delightful criminal crackdown that allows me to revel in the schadenfreude of watching rich people commit pathetic, white collar crimes for their own vanity—I mean, did y’all seriously have to bribe your kids’ way into Stanford or USC or Georgetown? It’s a little crazy how little faith they had in their kids, not to mention the sad obsession with a prestigious university for a kid who will likely survive on inherited wealth. But I digress.
Titled Operation Varsity Blues, the Netflix movie hits all the beats that I remember so well–the absurd photoshopped images of teens pretending to row crew or play water polo, plus the endless takes on social media (for better or worse), the revelation that actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman were involved, and the sheer ridiculousness of the whole affair. Director Chris Smith tells the story through a series of reenactments, interviews with people surrounding the incident, and YouTube clips from high school seniors on their feelings about the college process.
What are critics saying about the documentary?
The movie premiered on Netflix to critical acclaim, with writers praising the decision to include both traditional documentary-style interviews and filmed re-enactments of wiretapped conversations between Singer and his clients. Director Chris Smith and writer Jon Karmen combed through hundreds of pages of court documents to recreate the damning phone calls featured in the documentary, much to the delight of critics. Michelle Ruiz wrote in Vogue (opens in new tab), “these dramatic (albeit a bit cheesy) scenes wield a strange power: Modine acting out Singer’s real-life, wiretapped conversations with high-powered parents only highlights the largest college-admissions scandal in U.S. history’s full outrageous scope.”
While the calls between Singer and the disgraced parents thoroughly detailed their contemptible scheme, critics noted that the banality of the whole affair stood as a mirror to the widely unethical, prestige-driven college admissions process that gave rise to the scandal. A Roger Ebert (opens in new tab) critic noted, “Smith recreates conversations with Singer and his clients that sound about as intense as ordering a pizza…[the documentary] makes the point that these educations are more about prestige than education.”
Although Rick Singer was the mastermind behind the operation, he inadvertently proved that higher education for the wealthy–who don’t rely on its (mostly false) promise of upward mobility like middle and low income students–isn’t always a means toward intellectual striving or a way to jumpstart a career. Sometimes, it’s just to say your kid goes to USC, of all schools.
What did Rick Singer do?
At the center of the entire scandal is William "Rick" Singer, the CEO of the elaborate bribery scheme. Formerly a coach at Sacramento State before he was fired in 1988 during an incredibly losing season, per the Sacramento Bee, he transitioned to college counseling. His honest business eventually turned to felonious activity when he discovered that a simple bribe to a coach or a college sports program (plus some simple SAT/ACT cheating) can get a student into school easy.
So after all this super illegal corruption, ridiculous greed, and mountain of kickbacks, where is Rick Singer now?
Is Rick Singer in jail?
Not that I’m particularly invested in prisons, but it would seem to me that a man who bribed universities with millions of dollars from around 750 families would be in jail. As the mastermind of the whole shebang, William “Rick” Singer has thus far gotten off scot-free. Why? Well, after the FBI and IRS got wind of Singer’s “consultation” business from an unrelated securities case, one of Singer’s paid college administrators flipped and became an informant. The FBI eventually busted Singer himself, who then chose to rat on all his customers until those charged are sentenced. Although the disgraced coach has already pleaded guilty back in 2019, his case will not be tried until after he’s done cooperating with the feds. Who knows when that will be.
What we do know is that court records show (opens in new tab) that parents paid anywhere from $15,000 to $75,000 for fraudulent test results, and Singer raked in $25 million from the student-athlete bribery situation. He was charged with racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the US, and obstruction of justice.
Will Rick Singer go to jail?
Well, I’m no legal scholar and cannot attest to the deals that informants make with the authorities, but I can say that Singer faces up to 65 years in prison for his role in the scheme, plus a fine of upwards of $1.25 million, according to a CNN (opens in new tab) report. Throughout his time running the “consultation” business, he raked in an estimated $25 million.
According to the Department of Justice (opens in new tab), Singer’s government recommended sentence is incarceration “at the low end of the Guidelines sentencing range,” with thtrr years of supervised release plus fine and forfeiture.
So, where is Rick Singer now?
Well, he’s refused to participate in the Netflix documentary, although the director Chris Smith reached out to Singer. In an interview with Vanity Fair (opens in new tab), Smith told the magazine, “He was such an enigma. He was such a hard person to understand,” Smith said. “I think without actually doing an interview or talking to him it was very difficult to find out. I think our goal making the film was to collect as much information as we could about this person and put it together in a cohesive way that, you know, [viewers] could come to their own conclusions.”
I guess he also went back to college at Grand Canyon University, but dropped out last summer, according to reports from AZ Central (opens in new tab). See, there’s no need to cheat your way into school, although I am happy that the whole scandal brought into sharp relief the lengths greedy rich people will go to save face, cause, like, lol.
Zoe Guy is the digital fellow at Marie Claire, where she covers pop culture, hot celebrity gossip, movies and TV. She’s obsessed with Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of The Age of Innocence, anything written by Jesmyn Ward and stan Twitter.
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