Since it first became public this spring, the ongoing college admissions scandal has enveloped a wide number of families, including those that broke the law and some that used the legitimate tutoring service set up by the same now indicted individual who used bribes and trickery to get other kids into top colleges.
Two months ago, Deadline uncovered that one of those families initially flagged by federal prosecutors is Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke and her husband Bert Salke who is head of Disney’s Fox 21 TV studio. Contacted by me, the couple argued vociferously that their twin daughters had gotten into Brown University honestly and on their own merits and without any illegal assistance by William “Rick” Singer.
Now, with several other outlets seemingly determined to publish sordid stories, the Salkes have decided to get out front and have issued a statement to Deadline today.
Before I run it, I should report that I thoroughly investigated the scurrilous allegations against the Salkes over the last few months and found them without merit. “The individuals in question aren’t under investigation in the college admission scandal and have not conducted any acts of bribery,” asserted a law enforcement source close to the situation.
In that context, Jennifer Salke and Bert Salke have now decided to speak out. “We are releasing this statement to clarify an issue which has become increasingly of interest to various members of the press,” said the couple Friday.
The Salkes added: “Like many other families, we engaged the legitimate services of Rick Singer’s company, The Key Worldwide, to provide college counseling and tutoring services for our children.”
“Singer’s company provided our daughters with a tutor for ACT testing and guidance on the college application process. Our daughters took the ACT test in an official testing facility, which included a proctor. Neither were allotted extra time or required any assistance. Rick Singer provided periodic in person counseling, primarily related to college selection. We never engaged in any discussion involving any illegal activity in any of those meetings. Our daughters did not apply to college as athletes of any kind, nor did they apply to any of the since-exposed schools involved in the scandal.”
“We have never written a check or sent any other type of payment to the fraudulent Key Worldwide Foundation. We have never been contacted by law enforcement (including the DOJ and the FBI) about this case.”
“Our girls graduated with outstanding academic records at the very top of their class from a highly competitive high school. They applied to college in a standard manner and the only payment we made to any university was for the processing of their applications. We are proud of their accomplishments.”
The nationwide sting into Singer’s The Key Worldwide Foundation made huge waves when it was revealed in March and snared high-profile Hollywood names including Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and STX Entertainment’s Bill McGlashan. The ongoing investigation into bribes used to get the children of well-heeled parents into top colleges and universities despite lacking necessary grades or qualifications has widened recently on the West Coast as investigators look into other A-list connections, fueling rumors about who else may be involved.
Singer, who claims a likely inflated list of more than 750 clients, is cooperating with U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office and investigators and is currently out on bail. He faces over 60 years behind bars if found guilty on all the charges he is currently facing.
Investigators recently found that Singer often had his legit tutoring clients make out checks or put credit card charges through his phony foundation, even though the funds were used for the for-profit The Key Worldwide tutoring business. The confusing mixing of the accounts and books between the Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network AKA The Key led to many families being “upgraded” at one point, an official told Deadline, and scrutinized more carefully to clear matters up.
While more parents have been in recent weeks told that they are under investigation and some are awaiting indictment, a greater number like the Salke family are not under any suspicion. Also, Brown has never been mentioned as one of the schools involved in the matter, unlike Stanford, Georgetown, UCLA and Yale, among others.
The Salkes’ names first came up in Operation Varsity Blues late last year in the probe spearheaded by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts and the FBI. Looking for tutors for their twin daughters as college approached, the Salkes took on Singer’s company after receiving recommendations from friends. Having scant contact with Singer himself, the Salkes paid several thousand dollars for the tutoring that their daughters received. The Salkes’ daughters both were granted early admission to Ivy Leaguer Brown and will start there in the fall.
Through his fake nonprofit, Singer, an ex-Sacramento State assistant basketball coach, greased the palms of elite school coaches, a number of whom were also indicted earlier this month. He also orchestrated increased SAT and ACT exam scores for clients’ children to place them into top-tier colleges. Having allegedly pulled in just over $25 million in dressed-up donations and fees over the past eight years via the scheme, Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice charges.
The FBI arrested a number of those parents at their homes in the early hours of March 12, including more than a dozen in L.A. alone. Huffman and many others made the first of many court appearances later that day. Loughlin, who was not in town that morning, returned from filming in Vancouver that afternoon and was arrested and arraigned the next day.
Initially out on big-bucks bail and scheduled to show up in federal court in Boston soon afterward, Huffman, Loughlin and McGlashan were all charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud. The charges could see a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars (Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, was also picked up on wire taps discussing getting one of his daughters into school with Singer’s illegal help but the Shameless star is not currently a defendant in the case.)
On April 8, under the terms of a reduced charge deal with the feds, Huffman said she would enter a guilty plea. The American Crime actor also expressed her “shame” over her actions of paying around $15,000 to get inflated test scores for one of her daughters into college. A May 13 hearing in Boston saw prosecutors asking U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani to sentence the Oscar nominee to about four months in jail, one-year of supervised release, and to pay around $20,000 in fines. Sentencing is set for September 13.
Dropped from the next season of Netflix’s Fuller House and all her Hallmark projects, Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli went in the other direction. The couple entered a not guilty plea on April 29 over claims they paid more than $500,000 to get their two daughters into USC as recruits to the USC crew team even though they were not crew athletes. With any sort of plea deal now a non-issue, the still out on bail Loughlin and Giannulli continue to fight the government on the charges.
More indictments in the case are expected in the coming months.
Former NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke was named the head of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Studios in February last year. After eight years at Fox 21, ex-producer Bert Salke transitioned over to essentially the same gig after Disney’s acquisition of most of Fox’s assets in the $71.3 billion deal that was formally closed in March.