Netflix has a habit of producing landmark documentaries on some of the most famous celebrity cases around. Their latest offering, Operation Varsity Blues, which saw actress Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman charged with bribery has got people talking with, according to law firm Wright Hassel, thousands of searches online.
So, what is the scandal about and where does it rank in the list of most talked about celebrity cases online?
In 2019 Huffman and Laughlin were jailed for 11 days and two months respectively for paying Rick Singer to get their children into elite universities. They were one of scores of parents who employed Singer to help with college admissions.
Singer offered what he called a side door approach to help to rig the game. Under his model there are two ways parents can get their children into top universities. The first is the front door in which children win a place by virtue of academic achievement alone.
For those who might struggle with that, the backdoor approach involves donating to the university in order to help push your child’s application to the top of the pile. This could also be described as the Jared Kushner approach.
Kushner attended Harvard despite never having wowed his teachers in class. As laid out in the book, real estate developer Charles Kushner pledged $2.5 million to Harvard University in 1998 shortly before his son was accepted.
This is the kind of low-level corruption which has always been common in US universities. The top one percent regularly use donations to help their under achieving children into top universities.
Unfortunately, this does not guarantee entry. It was still possible to donate millions of pounds to a top school and for them to still reject the application.
That’s why Singer offered a ‘side door’ door approach. This involved bribing admissions officers and helping children to cheat on exams. He would falsify applications giving students disabilities which would allow for special considerations such as extra time, or a background in athletics to get onto special programs.
At one point in the documentary, he is seen promising to photoshop a student’s picture onto the body of a ‘kicker’ to create a picture of a fictional sporting career.
Unfortunately for Rick and his clients the FBI were onto him and were tapping his phones. In 2019, they went public and the entire scandal came crashing down. More than 50 people were indicted for their involvement including actors, businessmen, coaches and admissions officials.
Singer himself faces more than 60 years in prison.
It’s an all-American scandal and has generated a huge amount of buzz. According Wright Hassel’s data it is receiving 13,800 searches a month. This puts it behind only the OJ Simpson case which had 22,600 searches. It does, however, have some way to go to match the largest total number of cases.
Top of the list was Taylor Swift’s 2017 lawsuit against former radio DJ David Mueller in which Swift was awarded a symbolic $1 in damages. Close behind was Justin Bieber’s drink driving case which had almost 17,000,000 mentions and Megan Markle’s privacy case with 15,900,000.
Other notable cases inside the top ten include the sexual assault case against Woody Allen. The high profile case is currently the subject of another documentary streaming on NowTV.
The top ten cases runs as follows:
Celebrity Cases Mentions
1 Taylor Swift 28,100,000
2 Justin Bieber 16,700,000
3 Meghan Markle 15,900,000
4 Michael Jackson 14,500,000
5 Johnny Depp 10,800,000
6 Sofia Vergara 6,340,000
7 50 Cent 4,340,000
8 Chris Brown 4,300,000
9 Woody Allen 4,100,000
10 Lindsay Lohan 3,290,000
The success of Operation Varsity Blues hits at the enduring appetite for cases which involve high profile celebrities. It also shines a light on an admissions process which grossly favours people from a wealthy background. Even with that, when push coms to shove, they are using their wealth to cheat the system.
(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Michael O'Sullivan)