As we watch the FBI investigate and help bring criminal charges against scores of wealthy individuals for fraud because they paid some middleman to alter their kids’ college entrance exams or bribe college officials to claim their kids were recruited athletes, I can only think: What chutzpah!
The FBI may have committed the grossest fraud in the history of our country by trying to throw a presidential election through a fraudulent counterintelligence investigation of “Trump-Russia collusion,” using the massive legal and technological authorities at their disposal. And we’re supposed to get worked up by The Greatest College Admissions Fraud Scandal of All Time.
Now, let me be clear (to channel my inner Barack Obama). I am not condoning the payment of enormous sums of money by some rich, pompous parents so some guy can pay some obviously ethically challenged university employees to lie about those parents’ kids having athletic talent so they can be admitted to overpriced, overrated colleges. Or paying a guy to have some minions alter answers on college entrance exams.
Ethically, that is clearly wrong. But should it be criminal? I highly doubt it. Very wealthy parents routinely donate huge sums of money to colleges to fund an endowed chair or to construct a new building, often with the expectation that it will improve the chances of their academically mediocre children being admitted to that university. That’s what the alleged scammer-in-chief in this tale, Rick Singer, called the “back door” to admission to elite universities.
Is that criminal? No. And students often cheat on tests. If they are caught, are they charged criminally? Again, no.
White-collar law professor Randall Eliason compares the current case of admissions fraud with a recent case of an Adidas executive being convicted in an NCAA basketball recruiting scandal. Eliason writes that the two cases “highlight the sometimes blurry line between what is criminal and what may be merely deplorable.”
Eliason argues the case of James Gatto was merely unethical, not criminal. The Adidas executive was convicted of defrauding universities by helping recruit athletes who would have been deemed ineligible had payments Adidas made to their families been discovered. On the other hand, Eliason thinks federal criminal charges brought against the parents in the current case are warranted, somehow, because their chicanery denied slots to other, more eligible kids.
That makes it criminal? Seriously? Both cases should be treated as deplorable, not criminal.
People get admitted to colleges for all sorts of reasons, including for donations from their parents. As any college admissions officer will tell you, worthy students are often denied slots to a university filled instead by less-worthy students for a host of reasons. (Don’t even get me started on “diversity.”)
One accused parent in the present case, Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin, has been charged with “honest services mail fraud” and “conspiracy to commit mail fraud.” Does anyone seriously think those who crafted anti-mail fraud legislation had this sort of case in mind?
To reiterate, I am not a special pleader for the parents caught in this mess. Should they be exposed and embarrassed? Sure. That’s been more than accomplished already. Plus, they wasted a lot of money. Should the corrupt university officials be fired, and possibly sued, by their university employers for violating ethical guidelines? Absolutely. Should the kids who were admitted through the scam be expelled? Maybe.
But let’s use some perspective. Criminal charges should be reserved for acts that are an offense to society as a whole. All the parties involved here were private (excepting the University of California at Los Angeles and a couple other public universities, which could be treated separately). It seems to me that civil wrongs committed in private transactions should be remedied through civil litigation.
One of the things I discovered decades ago when I worked in law enforcement was that even the most corrupt countries can have a beautiful and expansive body of law, criminalizing everything under the sun, but that didn’t make their societies any purer and more honest.
I was sent by the Drug Enforcement Administration circa 1995 to Moscow under the auspices of a State Department program to train law enforcement agents from Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries on the wonders of U.S. money-laundering laws and investigation techniques to go after drug traffickers. I studied up on Russian money laundering laws and prosecutions. The law was quite impressive to me, and as I recall largely mirrored what Western democracies had on the books.
But I learned that the law was applied selectively, to punish those individuals out of favor with the government for political or other reasons. The biggest criminals and money launderers were the government officials themselves, and they were the ones doing the prosecuting! These were, after all, the “Wild West” days of post-Soviet Russia (not that things have improved appreciably in the intervening decades).
To my horror, I’m afraid that the United States is beginning to behave like 1990s post-Soviet Russia. The supposedly premier U.S. law enforcement agency—the FBI—is investigating and helping to prosecute several dozen morally compromised parents on fraud charges for helping their kids getting into college.
Yet that same agency appears to have knowingly used a politically manufactured, fraudulent document (the “Steele Dossier”), filled with “salacious and unverified” nonsense, to spy on and attempt to derail the presidential candidate who represented at least one-half of the American electorate. Think about that. That is the height of moral hypocrisy.
This razzle-dazzle performance of the FBI throwing the book at a bunch of the country’s rich and famous has the added benefit to being a surefire distraction from the ethical hole the FBI has dug itself. How convenient.
In teaching his disciples about the perils of judgmentalism, Jesus Christ said: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I think the hypocrites at the FBI need to read their Bibles.