SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — One of the largest college admission cheating scandals in history is exposing Hollywood stars, powerful executives—and even a man responsible for developing prominent Valley resorts.
The scandal is outlining the elaborate lengths some wealthy parents are accused of going to in order to get their kids into prestigious universities—parents including Full House actress Lori Laughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli.
The couple is accused of paying $500,000 for University of Southern California crew coaches to recruit their daughters, even though they don't row.
Giannulli even took a dig at Arizona State University, saying in an email that he was setting up a meeting to “make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!” court documents say.
Meghan McCain fired back at “Aunt Becky’s husband” on Twitter:
And the scandal goes deeper than Hollywood.
Robert Flaxman, CEO of Crown Realty and Development, had been a key figure in the development of two luxury resorts in Arizona: Mountain Shadows Resort and Omni Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Montelucia.
His company, headquartered in Orange County, California, is also a member of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce. Crown recently acquired the rights to develop property on 96.5 acres of land east of the Desert Ridge Marketplace.
He sold the Mountain Shadows property in 2015, according to documents supplied by a representative of Mountain Shadows.
According to court documents, Flaxman paid $325,000 to William Rick Singer, the founder of a college prep business called “the Key,” to bribe a varsity coach and an ACT proctor to get both of his kids into college.
The documents show the money was funneled through the Singer’s nonprofit, Key Worldwide Federation.
Court records show Flaxman paid $250,000 to KWF after Singer arranged a bribe for a varsity coach of an unspecified sport at the University of San Diego to recruit Flaxman’s son, who didn’t play the sport.
The USD coach was paid $100,000 for facilitating Flaxman’s son’s admission, the documents say.
Then, in April of 2016, Flaxman emailed Singer after his daughter scored 20 out of a possible 36 on the ACT exam, according to the court documents.
Flaxman said “she thought she did better than the last time. She actually finished the exam,” according to federal investigators.
Singer then arranged for Flaxman’s daughter to take the exam at the Houston Test Center, where Singer had arranged for Flaxman’s daughter and another client’s child to take the test with Mark Riddell, the director of college entrance exam preparation at a private school in Florida, the court documents say.
Riddell told investigators he helped Flaxman’s daughter and the other student answer questions on the test and told them to answer different questions incorrectly to avoid suspicion of cheating.
Flaxman’s daughter received a score of 28, and Flaxman sent a $75,000 payment to KWF.
On Oct. 23, 2018, law enforcement agents recorded a call between Singer and Flaxman about the payments. A transcript of part of that conversation is included in the court paperwork:
Singer: Okay—so our—so our books show there was a $250,000 payment for [your son’s] side door into USD, through [the USD varsity coach] and [the varsity sport]—
Singer: —and there was a 75K payment for [Riddell] to take—
Singer: —the standardized testing, SAT, ACT, with [your daughter].
Singer: Okay. So we’re both on the same page.
Flaxman: An-an-and the—the reason for the payments is what?
Singer: The reason for the payments were to, essentially—We won’t say that it went to pay for [your son] to get into USD. We’ll say that the payments were made to our foundation to help kids—underserved kids.
Flaxman: Okay. That’s fine.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Flaxman sold the Mountain Shadows property in 2015.