A teenage girl who did not play soccer magically became a star soccer recruit at Yale. Cost to her parents: $1.2 million.
A high school boy eager to enroll at the University of Southern California was falsely deemed to have a learning disability so he could take his standardized test with a complicit proctor who would make sure he got the right score. Cost to his parents: at least $50,000.
A student with no experience rowing won a spot on the U.S.C. crew team after a photograph of another person in a boat was submitted as evidence of her prowess. Her parents wired $200,000 into a special account.
In a major college admissions scandal that laid bare the elaborate lengths some wealthy parents will go to get their children into competitive American universities, federal prosecutors charged 50 people on Tuesday in a brazen scheme to buy spots in the freshman classes at Yale, Stanford and other big name schools.
Thirty-three well-heeled parents were charged in the case, including Hollywood celebrities and prominent business leaders, and prosecutors said there could be additional indictments to come.
Also implicated were top college athletic coaches, who were accused of accepting millions of dollars to help admit undeserving students to a wide variety of colleges, from the University of Texas at Austin to Wake Forest and Georgetown, by suggesting they were top athletes.
The parents included the television star Lori Loughlin and her husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli; the actress Felicity Huffman; and William E. McGlashan Jr., a partner at the private equity firm TPG, officials said.
The scheme unveiled Tuesday was stunning in its breadth and audacity. It was the Justice Department’s largest ever college admissions prosecution, a sprawling investigation that involved 200 agents nationwide and resulted in charges against 50 people in six states.
The charges also underscored how college admissions have become so cutthroat and competitive that some have sought to break the rules. The authorities say the parents of some of the nation’s wealthiest and most privileged students sought to buy spots for their children at top universities, not only cheating the system, but potentially cheating other hard-working students out of a chance at a college education.
In many of the cases, prosecutors said, the students were not aware that their parents were doctoring their test scores and lying to get them into school. Federal prosecutors did not charge any students or universities with wrongdoing.
“The parents are the prime movers of this fraud,” Andrew E. Lelling, the United States attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said Tuesday during a news conference. Mr. Lelling said that those parents used their wealth to create a separate and unfair admissions process for their children.
“The real victims in this case are the hardworking students” who were displaced in the admissions process by “far less qualified students and their families who simply bought their way in,” Mr. Lelling said.
At the center of the sweeping financial crime and fraud case was William Singer, the founder of a college preparatory business called the Edge College & Career Network, also known as The Key.
The authorities said Mr. Singer used The Key and its nonprofit arm, Key Worldwide Foundation, which is based in Newport Beach, Calif., to help students cheat on their standardized tests, and to pay bribes to the coaches who could get them into college with fake athletic credentials.