Was Aunt Becky’s Scam Worth the FBI’s Attention?

 

Okay, I’m not quite being fair. It’s not just Aunt Becky’s scam. But this from today’s FBI news conference on the cheating scandal exposed today struck me a bit… excessive:

This is obviously a disgusting thing for rich families to do, but I’m not sure why it rises to this level of attention within the ranks of the FBI. For as long as college admissions has been around, there have been rich parents who game the system in order to get their kids in. This happens to have been more glaring than most parents’ schemes, but there are too many schemes to count, and most of them I am blissfully unaware of as a lower middle-class kid who went to a state school.

This Twitter follower of mine has a good point:

But I just don’t see this scandal and these arrests doing anything to prevent gimmicks like the one these parents used in the future. Let’s not pretend the system was ever fair, or ever will be.

Published in Education
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There are 93 comments.

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  1. Coolidge

    I’m suspicious of the prosecutor referring to the suspects as a ‘catalog of wealth and privilege’, and I’m even more skeptical of the FBI conducting an unpoliticized investigation at this point.

    That said, The only thing that really caught my interest in this whole thing was that the actress from Full House is one of the accused.

    • #1
    • March 12, 2019 at 6:44 pm
    • 3 likes
  2. Coolidge

    I’m wondering what law was broken. People should be fired, of course. Universities should be shut down, maybe. But the only thing that makes this criminal, I’m thinking, is the odious practice of the federal government getting its nose into yet one more thing it has no business getting into.

    • #2
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:02 pm
    • 13 likes
  3. Member

    Your tweet and the response from Ms. Bell puts me in mind of two books: “Cardiac Arrest: Five Heart-Stopping Years On the Feds’ Hit-List” (by Howard Root), and “Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It” (by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr.).

    “Cardiac Arrest” – the whole point of Howard Root’s prosecution was to put a health industry CEO in cuffs and in jail for the red meat publicity the DOJ was seeking. In a similar way, I suspect that the celebrity of the culprits in this schools admissions scandal was the actual temptation that drove so many resources after this target. Your tweet seemed to allude to this element.

    “Mismatch” – the authors focused on the downsides of students admitted to schools in which they struggled to keep up, and downplayed the effects of race based admissions preferences upon those not accepted to these schools they sought to attend – asserting repeatedly that these students had other good options. For me this detracted from an otherwise great book insofar as it seemed dismissive of the particular costs borne by particular individuals. Ms. Bell’s Twitter response focuses on those families who have shared in the disappointments of their ambitious sons and daughters to get into particular schools.

    To your question of “worth the attention?” It’s almost always good to expose humbug, but we would need to examine the opportunity costs of 300 F.B.I. agents . Who knows, maybe it’s actually better than having them up to other mischief.

     

     

    • #3
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:20 pm
    • 8 likes
  4. Member

    Is the foot in the door for FBI intervention the Federal funds that the universities receive?

    • #4
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:22 pm
    • 5 likes
  5. Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I’m wondering what law was broken. People should be fired, of course. Universities should be shut down, maybe. But the only thing that makes this criminal, I’m thinking, is the odious practice of the federal government getting its nose into yet one more thing it has no business getting into.

    Wire and mail fraud gets the attention of the Feds. (The fraud is the scamsters fronting as a charity.)

    • #5
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:23 pm
    • 8 likes
  6. Member

    The FBI is a mafia which exists to serve the interests of it’s upper echelons. Arguing that something like this isn’t worth their time presumes that, absent this sort of thing, they’d use their time for some worthy cause. A fact which is abundantly not in evidence.

    • #6
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:25 pm
    • 10 likes
  7. Member

    I’ve got mixed opinions on it. I’m glad they caught these people, and with the amount of money flowing through the scam, it sounds like there it was a big deal, even if there were few people involved. 

    I wonder where the actual violation of the law occurred. Is it illegal to bribe someone at a private company, or is it properly a matter of civil law, a violation of contract? Or is the issue that there was bribery of public school officials, so there’s a violation of state law? I can see that the interstate nature of the schemes would bring the FBI in, rather than only state officials.

    • #7
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:29 pm
    • 4 likes
  8. Member

    The fraud part seems worth the FBI’s attention. Is it worth our attention as a public? It’s not too big of a stretch beyond legal ways for rich parents to get their children into elite colleges. although the whole legal/illegal distinction seems important. Will this be a BIG story we talk about for a whole three days or a small story we only talk about for one night? The fact rich people are the villains in the story may push it through more than one news cycle.

    • #8
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:30 pm
    • 3 likes
  9. Member

    I read the entire indictment and the affidavit by the Special Agent. Riveting reading. On a superficial level, these parents allegedly paid bribes to get their children into good schools. But then you dig deeper and they’re allegedly breaking the tax laws, corrupting the college admissions process and college athletics, cheating on standardized tests (falsifying their child’s test and lying about having a learning disability to facilitate the ruse). If true, the rot goes way beyond the parents. It’s horrendous for these institutions. If the charges are true, I suspect that there are a lot more people at the colleges who took the cash these parents forked over. All those millions can grease a lot of palms.

    • #9
    • March 12, 2019 at 7:42 pm
    • 9 likes
  10. Member

    Justin Hertog (View Comment):
    cheating on standardized tests (falsifying their child’s test and lying about having a learning disability to facilitate the ruse). If true, the rot goes way beyond the parents. It’s horrendous for these institutions.

    A girl in my psych class announced aloud that her coach paid someone to take her SATs because “I could never have gotten a good enough score on my own!”

    That was almost 20 years ago.

    I am certainly not surprised that people have done it. I’m surprised that it got this far and that people even abused sports (saying you played when you never did).

    But I’m not surprised. It’s another reason why college education is worth so little.

    • #10
    • March 12, 2019 at 8:19 pm
    • 11 likes
  11. Member

    I honestly don’t understand why this is a big criminal case involving lots of law enforcement resources. A few Hollywood types have kids who are not bright enough to get into the colleges they want them to go to. It actually suggests that there is some sort of egalitarian right to “fairness” in college admissions.

    Huh? 1) Did anyone ever think that there were no thumbs on scales in college admissions? 2) Why is that a big deal? They will go to Yale or whatever, prove that they are not that sharp, and then Mummy and Daddy will buy them jobs or business opportunities that they can’t screw up. See Kennedy, Joe and sons.

    One of the college professors in our family (who did the first two years of undergrad at a community college, thank you) told me that in grad school there were common names bandied about in the grad student lounge for such students- to the rough effect of DUKADs: “dumb kids of alumni and donors”.

    One thinks that this is a big crime because the famous defendants ensured media attention for the investigators. Shaming, yes. I don’t see a big crime here except where the SAT tutor engaged in fraud. 

    • #11
    • March 12, 2019 at 8:24 pm
    • 5 likes
  12. Thatcher

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):

    I honestly don’t understand why this is a big criminal case involving lots of law enforcement resources. A few Hollywood types have kids who are not bright enough to get into the colleges they want them to go to. It actually suggests that there is some sort of egalitarian right to “fairness” in college admissions.

    Huh? 1) Did anyone ever think that there were no thumbs on scales in college admissions? 2) Why is that a big deal? They will go to Yale or whatever, prove that they are not that sharp, and then Mummy and Daddy will buy them jobs or business opportunities that they can’t screw up. See Kennedy, Joe and sons.

    One of the college professors in our family (who did the first two years of undergrad at a community college, thank you) told me that in grad school there were common names bandied about in the grad student lounge for such students- to the rough effect of DUKADs: “dumb kids of alumni and donors”.

    One thinks that this is a big crime because the famous defendants ensured media attention for the investigators. Shaming, yes. I don’t see a big crime here except where the SAT tutor engaged in fraud.

    Agreed. There is some sort of back room politics going on. The response is out of proportion to the offense. Somebody has their pantties in a wad or there a political favors to be had.

    • #12
    • March 12, 2019 at 8:54 pm
    • 3 likes
  13. Thatcher

    danok1 (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    I’m wondering what law was broken. People should be fired, of course. Universities should be shut down, maybe. But the only thing that makes this criminal, I’m thinking, is the odious practice of the federal government getting its nose into yet one more thing it has no business getting into.

    Wire and mail fraud gets the attention of the Feds. (The fraud is the scamsters fronting as a charity.)

    tax deductible charity.

    Hang ’em high.

    • #13
    • March 12, 2019 at 9:15 pm
    • 8 likes
  14. Thatcher

    Ok, seems like there is a charity involved. Not sure why that is a issue since the Clinton have shown you can do anything with those.

    • #14
    • March 12, 2019 at 9:17 pm
    • 6 likes
  15. Thatcher
    • #15
    • March 12, 2019 at 10:10 pm
    • 1 like
  16. Podcaster

    Celeb: Yeah, we paid a half mil just to get our daughters into state schools. Then tuition was $40k each.

    Me: What did they study?

    Celeb: The Intersectionality between feminist and queer literature and fruit fly reproduction in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Me: Just write me a check and I’ll forget this conversation ever happened…

    • #16
    • March 12, 2019 at 10:11 pm
    • 12 likes
  17. Member

    This is obviously a disgusting thing for rich families to do, but I’m not sure why it rises to this level of attention within the ranks of the FBI. For as long as college admissions has been around, there have been rich parents who game the system in order to get their kids in.

    I’m somewhat confused (as usual). Earlier today, this was worth a post discussing the entire episode without concerns over its “importance.” Now it’s devolved into a sort of “the rich do it all of the time.” I’d recommend reading the indictment that I linked to in your earlier post before going the relativist route.

    • #17
    • March 12, 2019 at 10:21 pm
    • 6 likes
  18. Coolidge
    TBA

    What they did was corrupt. And people helped them do it – and were corrupted. 

    To shrug and say, “that is the way of the world” – which I am inclined to do…is this not also corrupt? 

    • #18
    • March 12, 2019 at 11:50 pm
    • 11 likes
  19. Listener

    “300 agents participated” doesn’t necessarily mean 300 agents worked on it full-time or had this as the highest priority on their plate. Half of them could be “the IRS agent that happened to pick up the phone when we called them on two hundred separate occasions for various requests”.

    I exaggerate, but it’s very easy to see how a wide-ranging, country-wide fraud investigation that lasted for almost a year could pull in dozens of people from dozens of different offices for a couple of hours each. The FBI has an incentive to make its successes as impressive as possible; it makes sense they’d do so by implying that agents who were ancillary to the investigation were part of the actual arrest.

    • #19
    • March 13, 2019 at 2:51 am
    • 3 likes
  20. Member

    What always amuses me about the outrage over stories like this (or the Asian kids with stratospheric SAT scores suing Harvard for turning them down) is that it reveals how much we as a society need to have these storied elite institutions of education with impeccable credentials.

    In most markets with countless choices available, discovery of fraud by one seller just causes consumers to switch to a different product. If an expensive “100% organic freshly squeezed” orange juice is exposed as being from the concentrate of non-organic oranges, consumers just make a mental note of the fraud and move onto the next brand.

    So the logical reaction would be for society to simply say “alright, the Ivies suck. What other good colleges are out there?”. But for some reason society can’t move past them – we really want the Ivy League schools (and their peers such as Stanford, MIT, Caltech, etc.) to remain the most prestigious academic institutions in the US. So we get outraged when we discover they aren’t living up to their professed standards, instead of just writing them off.

    It’s strange when society shows such undying brand loyalty to a brand that the vast majority will never be able to shop at.

    • #20
    • March 13, 2019 at 3:33 am
    • 7 likes
  21. Member

    Duane Oyen (View Comment):
    I honestly don’t understand why this is a big criminal case involving lots of law enforcement resources.

    My sense is that this is an Elliot Spitzer-like situation: this investigation is being led by a US Attorney from a liberal city who is likely trying to set himself up for a future career in politics by throwing the book at progressives’ scapegoat-of-the-hour (in Spitzer’s case Wall St. firms, in Lelling’s case privileged rich white families).

    I expect the announcement of his candidacy for MA governor soon.

    • #21
    • March 13, 2019 at 3:45 am
    • 4 likes
  22. Member

    It’s hard for me to process the casual treatment and dismissal by many here of this organized fraud. 

    It’s the difference between a drug user and a seller. A drug retailer and a wholesaler. 

    And here’s another effect this has: I’ve no doubt that 95% of the people participating in these blatant fraud are all in for affirmative action, and that most will vote for the most left wing Democrats to represent them. White elites have their own built-in advantages ( better high schools, special tutors, a non working mom to drive them to soccer practice and other resume enhancing activities, along with alumni connections) and then if that’s not enough (!) fraudulent charities like this.

    So which group is hurt? The white working class, who are essentially locked out of elite schools.

    Yes, the layers of fraud are deep. But the results still show how important these credentials, and resulting connections, are.

    As someone who is twice as smart and capable than half of these people, I’ve been rejected because of the lack of credentials. I’ve learned to live with it, I’m over it, the world isn’t fair and the credentialed people in HR divisions are non-thinking drones, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a significant scandal. 

    It reveals quite a lot, and the author and some commenters reaction is generally quite in keeping with their other political viewpoints. That is, they either cannot or will not see why so many are rejecting the legacy GOP. 

    I’m disgusted.

    • #22
    • March 13, 2019 at 4:33 am
    • 9 likes
  23. Member

    Franco (View Comment):

    It’s hard for me to process the casual treatment and dismissal by many here of this organized fraud.

    It’s the difference between a drug user and a seller. A drug retailer and a wholesaler.

    And here’s another effect this has: I’ve no doubt that 95% of the people participating in these blatant fraud are all in for affirmative action, and that most will vote for the most left wing Democrats to represent them. White elites have their own built-in advantages ( better high schools, special tutors, a non working mom to drive them to soccer practice and other resume enhancing activities, along with alumni connections) and then if that’s not enough (!) fraudulent charities like this.

    So which group is hurt? The white working class, who are essentially locked out of elite schools.

    Yes, the layers of fraud are deep. But the results still show how important these credentials, and resulting connections, are.

    As someone who is twice as smart and capable than half of these people, I’ve been rejected because of the lack of credentials. I’ve learned to live with it, I’m over it, the world isn’t fair and the credentialed people in HR divisions are non-thinking drones, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a significant scandal.

    It reveals quite a lot, and the author and some commenters reaction is generally quite in keeping with their other political viewpoints. That is, they either cannot or will not see why so many are rejecting the legacy GOP.

    I’m disgusted.

    +1.

    The indictment alleges 25 million dollars in bribes over a multi-year period. But what’s the biggie?

     

     

    • #23
    • March 13, 2019 at 4:46 am
    • 6 likes
  24. Member

    Franco (View Comment):
    It’s hard for me to process the casual treatment and dismissal by many here of this organized fraud. 

    I think this is a huge deal. I’m not particularly shocked because most of my family works in private secondary education so I’ve seen similar behavior for decades. But I still think it’s a big deal.

    But does “this is a big deal” always automatically mean “we need lots of law enforcement involvement“? Progressives think so. I don’t.

    Sometimes law enforcement is necessary, sometimes other forms of investigation and punishment are more appropriate. That doesn’t mean I think any less of the accusations.

    • #24
    • March 13, 2019 at 5:17 am
    • 2 likes
  25. Member

    Tim H. (View Comment):

    I’ve got mixed opinions on it. I’m glad they caught these people, and with the amount of money flowing through the scam, it sounds like there it was a big deal, even if there were few people involved.

    I wonder where the actual violation of the law occurred. Is it illegal to bribe someone at a private company, or is it properly a matter of civil law, a violation of contract? Or is the issue that there was bribery of public school officials, so there’s a violation of state law? I can see that the interstate nature of the schemes would bring the FBI in, rather than only state officials.

    It’s thoroughly illegal to bribe someone at a public university to get your dumb kid into a preferred school.

    Fraud is also illegal, so paying someone to take the SAT for your dumb kid is covered.

    Paying someone else to commit fraud? Yep, illegal too.

    Money laundering, of course, is a favorite crime for the Feds to go after. Hiding a bribe as a charitable donation? Might as well stick a “prosecute me” sign on your back.

     

    • #25
    • March 13, 2019 at 5:18 am
    • 9 likes
  26. Member

    IDK. As soon as I stop laughing about this I’ll give more thought to its legal and moral implications. Right now, it’s just too schadenfreudelicious.

    • #26
    • March 13, 2019 at 5:26 am
    • 9 likes
  27. Member

    It is sad they cannot accept their kids for who they are.

     

     

    • #27
    • March 13, 2019 at 5:45 am
    • 6 likes
  28. Member

    My daughter went to a very good public school in New Jersey. It’s quite a wealthy area. We also have quite a few South Asians and East Asians in our school system ( about 40%) who, almost to a student, are extremely diligent and driven to excel, and they may well be smarter to begin with. I’m sure many parents moved into this township solely because of the school system.

    Incidentally, the teachers and administrators are very proud of themselves for the ranking, even though the high ranking is a direct result of the quality of the students and their parents. As well, modern high school education is becoming about assigning more learning at home than in class instruction. I almost went ballistic on the amount of homework my daughters had while getting very little in class.

    Now, my daughter was very driven and talented in the dance world and auditioned for University dance programs and was accepted to one elite level University and several other very good programs. She had decent marks and a good SAT score also, but nothing like the Asians and several stellar Caucasians. She took the one she, and we her parents, thought best (not the elite school btw). 

    Her high school friends are scattered far and wide. University of Indiana, Cornell, Tulane, Trinity and many more. Aside from some of the boys studying engineering and such, most ( all?) of her girlfriends are spending an inordinate amount of time getting drunk, cutting classes and doing almost nothing during the extensive vacations colleges grant. My daughter takes workshops and classes whenever she can – on weekends, breaks and throughout the summer months. She must do so to maintain and grow.

    My daughter is lucky to be in a very competitive merit-based field and it makes her a much better person and candidate for any job that doesn’t require specific expertise. But, believe it or not, there are plenty of money-making possibilities in the dance world alone, so I’m not worried.

    I’m just very glad my younger girl is not like her contemporaries. My older girl has a degree but must go back to school to get a job above basic minimum wage. 

    The whole thing is a giant fraud.

     

     

    • #28
    • March 13, 2019 at 5:58 am
    • 9 likes
  29. Thatcher

    lowtech redneck (View Comment):
    I’m suspicious of the prosecutor referring to the suspects as a ‘catalog of wealth and privilege’

    He’s merely poisoning the minds of potential jurors . . .

    • #29
    • March 13, 2019 at 6:18 am
    • 2 likes
  30. Member

    To Bethany’s question; I view this “cheating takedown” as necessary and analogous to the “broken windows policing” concept of dealing with minor crimes as a means of setting a minimum standard for civilized society. Let it go and it will metastasize into something much worse.

    • #30
    • March 13, 2019 at 6:20 am
    • 7 likes
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