BOSTON — Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with at least 40 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, prosecutors said.
"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.
Those charged included several athletic coaches.
On Tuesday evening, a judge said Huffman can be released on $250,000 bond.
Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children's chances of getting into schools.
"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the founder of the admissions consulting company, William "Rick" Singer, of Newport Beach, California, pleaded guilty in Boston federal court.
The racketeering conspiracy charges were brought against coaches at schools including Wake Forest, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
Lelling said it was the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
The NCAA is investigating. The group said in a statement Tuesday that the charges made public Tuesday “are troubling and should be a concern for all of higher education.”
"We are looking into these allegations to determine the extent to which NCAA rules may have been violated," the statement said.
Most NCAA rules that regulate recruiting are aimed at preventing schools and coaches from giving improper benefits and enticements to athletes. In this case, parents were paying coaches to help students gain entry to college by falsifying athletic credentials and claiming that the students were being recruited to plays sports.
A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, tennis and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience.
Stanford University says it has fired sailing coach John Vandemoer in connection with the scandal.
Vandemoer was charged with accepting a total of $270,000 in contributions to the school's program for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission.
The school said Tuesday that neither student came to Stanford but that "the alleged behavior runs completely counter to Stanford's values."
Stanford said it has no evidence that anyone else at the school is involved but will conduct an internal review.
Vandemoer is expected to enter a plea Tuesday in Boston.
The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid the founder of the Edge College & Career Network approximately $25 million to get their children into college.
The magistrate judge ordered Huffman to restrict her travel to the continental United States.
Court documents said the "Desperate Housewives" star paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so her daughter could take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam.
Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them. The cooperator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse "agreed to the plan."
Macy attended his wife’s initial court appearance. He has not been charged and authorities have not said why.
Loughlin, who appeared in the ABC sitcom "Full House," was also charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud but was not taken into custody Tuesday. Her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was arrested at their home and was expected to appear at Tuesday’s hearing in Los Angeles.
Messages seeking comment with representatives for Huffman and Loughlin were not immediately returned.
Information from ABC News was used in this report.
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