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College admissions scandal: Education Dept. investigating University of San Diego, other schools

If violations are found, schools may lose federal funding
Posted at 8:59 AM, Mar 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-26 12:03:30-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The University of San Diego, USC and UCLA were among eight universities notified they were under investigation by the Department of Education in connection with the college admissions scandal, it was reported.

Investigators would be looking into whether the schools violated laws "governing the Federal student financial aid programs" or other laws, according to a document reviewed by the political news website Politico.

If violations are found, the schools could be penalized up to having access to Pell Grants and federal student loans cut off.

Statistics provided by USD show some 750 students receive Pell Grants for an average of $4,400 per student.

An estimated $3.3 million -- not including federal student loan figures -- could be at stake for the university.

The schools were each notified Monday they faced an investigation connected to the criminal charges federal prosecutors announced earlier this month.

The document stated the allegations made against the schools by the Justice Department "raise questions about whether your institution is fully meeting its obligations," Politico reported.

In addition to USD, UCLA and USC, presidents of Yale University, Wake Forest University, Stanford University, Georgetown University and the University of Texas at Austin received similar letters.

The letters cite a wide range of federal education regulations and laws that investigators are exploring, including that universities receiving federal student aid must have proper procedures and policies to administer federal money, Politico said.

As part of the investigation, the universities were ordered to provide a list of the names of all students whose admission was brought up in the Justice Department's investigation.

Education Department investigators also ordered the universities to turn over documents they used in marketing and promoting their schools, including any statement made to organizations that rank schools, such as U.S. News and World Report and internal control policies and procedures related to admissions for recruited athletes, the website said.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has called the scandal "disgraceful" and urged her department to determine if any of the agency's regulations had been violated.

Thirteen people, including Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, were arrested March 13 in connection with an alleged multimillion-dollar nationwide bribery scheme to get students into elite colleges, including California schools USD, USC, UCLA and Stanford.

The alleged conspiracy focused on getting students admitted to prestigious universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to a 50-defendant indictment unsealed in federal court in Boston.

There's no indication that the schools were involved in any of the wrongdoing.

Two San Diegans -- Toby MacFarlane and Elisabeth Kimmel -- face charges in connection with the scandal. Both are accused of paying bribes to get their children admitted into high-profile schools.

MacFarlane, an insurance company executive, allegedly paid an agency to fabricate athletic profiles for his son and daughter as part of a plan to get them into USC.

Kimmel, a former media company president, is accused of conspiring to get her daughter into Georgetown and her son into USC.

Loughlin, best known for her role in the sitcom “Full House," and Huffman, who starred in the ABC show “Desperate Housewives," are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud, according to the indictment.

Huffman is accused of paying $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation to the Key Worldwide Foundation to aid her oldest daughter's university prospects. A confidential informant told investigators that he told Huffman he could arrange for a third party to correct her daughter's answers on the SAT after she took it, The Washington Post reported. She ended up scoring a 1420 -- 400 points higher than she had gotten on a PSAT taken a year earlier.

Huffman also contemplated running a similar scam to help her younger daughter, but ultimately did not pursue it, the complaint alleges.

Both Huffman and Loughlin were released from custody after posting bail and were ordered to appear in federal court in Boston on March 29.

Lamont Smith, the former head coach of the USD men’s basketball team was named in the indictment. Prosecutors said Smith worked to help admit a non-athlete into the school as an athletic recruit.

Smith, who resigned from USD in 2018, had been an assistant coach at the University of Texas-El Paso but resigned from that job last week.

UCLA men's soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, who is charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering for his alleged participation in the scheme, resigned Thursday. Salcedo, who had been UCLA's coach since 2004, had been on leave since March 12 when federal authorities announced indictments in the case.

USC last week fired senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, who were among those indicted in the case.