Rachel Leingang Arizona Republic
Published 4:22 PM EDT Mar 12, 2019
Arizona State University has nothing to do with the federal bribery case that is rocking some of the country’s most elite universities and entangled Hollywood actors with college coaches.
Well, almost nothing.
In a supporting document in the case, ASU gets knocked as an example of a place where Hollywood actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, don’t want their daughter to go to school.
Loughlin, known for her role as Aunt Becky on “Full House,” and Giannulli agreed to pay $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters designated as recruits to the University of Southern California’s crew team, though the girls did not participate in crew, court documents allege.
Giannulli wrote to a cooperating witness in 2016, copying Loughlin on the email:
“We just met with (our older daughter’s) college counselor this am. I’d like to maybe sit with you after your session with the girls as I have some concerns and want to fully understand the game plan and make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to (our daughter) and getting her into a school other than ASU!”
Giannulli is a fashion designer and founder of the clothing company Mossimo.
The cooperating witness responded that they had a “game plan ready to go into motion” for USC.
READ MORE: College coaches, celebrities indicted in admissions bribery case
USC’s acceptance rate was 13 percent in 2018, making it a highly selective university. ASU’s acceptance rate tops 80 percent.
Late-night hosts and TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “30 Rock” have made ASU the butt of jokes for years. Seth MacFarlane has taken several shots at ASU in his shows “Family Guy” and “American Dad,” and extensively in his movie “Ted 2.”
The school has worked to improve its reputation nationally, though it has not made has not made admissions more selective. ASU President Michael Crow frequently says a college should be able to be both inclusive in its admissions and excellent in academic quality.
Loughlin’s first husband, Michael R. Burns, graduated from ASU. Giannulli went to USC, but does not appear to have graduated.
Giannulli’s comment is the only mention of an Arizona school in the bribery case. None of Arizona’s universities were involved in any of the schemes, according to court documents.
In a statement, ASU said it had “no comment on a glib, uninformed remark.”
But, the university’s statement says, the underlying issue of college selectivity deserves attention.
“Some universities have decided the most important thing they can do is turn away deserving, qualified applicants just so they can seem more exclusive. That leads to perverse incentives and perverse actions, as we are witnessing unfold right now,” ASU said.
But ASU believes limited access to college is a “recipe for disaster for our country,” and is instead focusing on increasing access and academic quality.
“And a note to potential Sun Devils: You can apply any time — no shenanigans needed,” ASU said.
50 people charged in ‘Operation Varsity Blues’
The Justice Department has described the indictment as its largest-ever college admissions bribery case. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”
In total, 50 people were charged in the case. Of those, 33 were parents, including Loughlin and actress Felicity Huffman. In some instances, parents paid a Florida man to take college entrance exams like the ACT and SAT in place of their children, or to replace their child’s answers with correct ones after they had taken the test, according to court documents.
In other instances, like Loughlin’s, parents paid college coaches to accept their children as recruited athletes despite their lack of involvement in sports.
Aside from parents, nine coaches also were charged, as were people who the Justice Department says organized the scams and administered the college exams.
Coaches were charged with racketeering at several elite universities, including Stanford University, the University of California at Los Angeles, Wake Forest University, Georgetown and the University of Southern California.
Arizona Republic reporter Anne Ryman and USA TODAY contributed to this story.
Reach reporter Rachel Leingang by email or by phone at 602-444-8157, or find her on Twitter and Facebook.
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