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Television Stars, Coaches, Others Charged In Nationwide US College Bribery Scheme

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FBI Special Agent in Charge Boston Division Joseph Bonavolonta, left, and U.S. Attorney for District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling, right, face reporters as they announce indictments in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal during a news conference, Tuesday, March 12, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON (AP) — Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.

Authorities called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million bribery case against 50 people in all.

At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents were among those charged in the investigation, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues. Dozens, including Huffman, were arrested by midday.

Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children’s chances of getting into schools.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children’s admission, officials said.

“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.

The coaches worked at such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.

No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of the fraud.

Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, sailing, tennis, water polo and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, boosted the students’ chances of admission.

Among the parents charged were Gordon Caplan of Greenwich, Connecticut, a co-chairman of an international law firm based in New York; Jane Buckingham, CEO of a boutique marketing company in Los Angeles; Gregory Abbott of New York, founder and chairman of a packaging company; and Manuel Henriquez, CEO of a finance company based in Palo Alto, California.

The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid William Singer, the founder of the Edge College & Career Network, approximately $25 million to get their children into college.

Prosecutors said Singer was scheduled to plead guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy.

John Vandemoer, the former head sailing coach at Stanford, was also expected to plead guilty Tuesday.

Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House,” while Huffman starred in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.” Both were charged with fraud and conspiracy.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance-exam cheating scam.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them that he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change her daughter’s answers. The person told investigators that the couple agreed to the plan.

Macy was not charged; authorities did not say why.

Messages seeking comment from Huffman’s representative were not immediately returned. A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment.

Read the full criminal complaint below:

Coronavirus

Whitmer says Trump ‘inciting’ domestic terrorism

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called out President Donald Trump on Sunday for incendiary comments he made about her during a weekend campaign rally, saying the President’s heightened rhetoric just days after authorities foiled a plot by extremists to kidnap her is “inciting this kind of domestic terrorism.”

But as Whitmer, a Democrat, pleaded with Trump to “bring down the heat,” the President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump described the President’s calls to jail the governor as him “having fun,” during an interview with CNN on Sunday.

“You know, it’s incredibly disturbing that the President of the United States, 10 days after a plot to kidnap, put me on trial and execute me, 10 days after that was uncovered, the President is at it again and inspiring and incentivizing and inciting this kind of domestic terrorism,” Whitmer said in an interview on NBC.

“It is wrong. It’s got to end. It is dangerous, not just for me and my family, but for public servants everywhere who are doing their jobs and trying to protect their fellow Americans. People of goodwill on both sides of the aisle need to step up and call this out and bring the heat down,” she added.

During a rally Saturday in Michigan, Trump accused Whitmer, whom he has previously called “a dictator,” of unnecessarily locking down her state as she fought the coronavirus pandemic. That led his crowd to break into a chant of “Lock her up!” a little more than a week after federal authorities revealed a plot by extremists to kidnap Whitmer and overthrow the government.

Rather than condemning the derailed plot — which led to terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against more than a dozen men — or discouraging that kind of divisive language, Trump responded to the cheer by saying, “Lock them all up” — drawing on his authoritarian rhetoric about jailing his political opponents by adding Hillary Clinton and the Biden family into the mix.

Asked about the chants by CNN’s Jake Tapper on State of the Union, Lara Trump, who serves as a senior adviser for the Trump campaign, downplayed the comments and dismissed concerns about their potential impact.

“Well, look, he wasn’t doing anything, I don’t think, to provoke people to threaten this woman at all,” she said, referring to Whitmer. “He was having fun at a Trump rally.”

During his rally Saturday, Trump also complained that Whitmer said publicly that his refusal to denounce White supremacists, extremists and hate groups has emboldened activists like those who allegedly planned the foiled attack against her.

“I guess they said she was threatened, right?” Trump said, seeming to doubt the specifics of the case and underplaying the violence it could have entailed. “She was threatened, and she blamed me — she blamed me, and our people were the ones that worked with her people, so let’s see what happens.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware called Lara Trump’s comments “troubling” during an appearance on “State of the Union” later Sunday, telling Tapper that the President’s language creates a clear contrast between him and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

“If that means that for our President ‘fun’ is fueling division and encouraging folks to say and do things that are threatening and completely inappropriate, well that’s a reminder of what kind of president we currently have, in sharp contrast to Joe Biden, someone who can and will bring our country together,” Coons said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also criticized Trump for his rally comments, saying in an interview with ABC on Sunday that he was being “irresponsible” with his rhetoric.

“The President has to realize the words of the president of the United States weigh a ton. And in that political dialogue, to inject fear tactics into it, especially (about) a woman governor and her family, is so irresponsible,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat.

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Crime

London police shocked by rare fatal shooting of officer

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A police officer in London died after being shot in the early hours of Friday by a man who was being detained in a rare fatal shooting of a UK police officer.

The incident occurred in the early hours of Friday at Croydon Custody Centre in south London, the city’s Metropolitan Police Service said.

Fellow officers and paramedics treated the officer at the scene, according to a police statement. However, he later died of his injuries at the hospital.

Later on Friday, the police service identified the slain officer as 54-year-old Sgt. Matt Ratana.

“This is a truly shocking incident in which one of our colleagues has lost his life in the most tragic circumstances. My heart goes out to his family, direct colleagues and friends,” said Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.

A 23-year-old man was detained at the scene, police said. He is in hospital in a critical condition from a gunshot wound. The Metropolitan Police Service has launched a homicide investigation.

The fatal shooting of a police officer is an unusual event in the United Kingdom, where police do not routinely carry guns.

No police firearms were discharged during the incident, the police statement said.

Dick said Ratana was originally from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, and moved to London in 1989. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1991 and was captain of his recruit training class.

According to the UK Police Roll of Honour Trust website, no officer lost his or her life in a shooting incident last year. The last Metropolitan Police officer to lose his life in a violent attack was Keith Palmer, who was fatally stabbed in a terror attack in the British capital in 2017.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country owed a “huge debt” to police officers who risk their lives to keep the community safe.

“My deepest condolences go to the family, friends and colleagues of the police officer who was killed in Croydon last night,” he said on Twitter. “We owe a huge debt to those who risk their own lives to keep us safe.”

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “shocked and saddened” by the news. “My thoughts today are with his family, friends, and policing colleagues in London and across the country,” she said in a statement.

Patel said she had offered her condolences to Dick and offered whatever support was needed as the shooting was investigated.

“This is a sad day for our country and another terrible reminder of how our police officers put themselves in danger each and every day to keep the rest of us safe,” she said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was “devastated” by the shooting.

“My heart goes out to the family of this brave officer, who has paid the ultimate price for helping to keep Londoners safe. Tragic incidents like this are terrible reminders of the dangers our police officers face every single day,” Khan said on Twitter.

“My thoughts are also with the entire Metropolitan Police family, who I know will be deeply mourning their colleague at this extremely difficult time. I remain in close contact with the Commissioner to offer her and our Met officers and staff my support.”

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Crime

ATLANTA POLICE OFFICER SHOOTS A MAN DEAD AT A FAST-FOOD DRIVE-THRU

An Atlanta police officer shot and killed a man at a Wendy’s drive-thru Friday night.

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 (CNN) — An Atlanta police officer shot and killed a man at a Wendy’s drive-thru Friday night after he resisted arrest and struggled for an officer’s Taser, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in a statement.

The GBI identified the slain man as Rayshard Brooks, 27, of Atlanta.

The killing comes amid global protests and discussion of police use of force following the death of George Floyd last month in custody in Minneapolis. Atlanta has seen frequent protests, including some that turned violent.

Six Atlanta Police Department officers were facing charges of using excessive force during one, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard announced June 2. Two of the officers were fired by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Friday, officers responded to a call at 10:33 p.m. about a man sleeping in a parked vehicle in the drive-thru, causing other customers to drive around it, the GBI said in a statement.

Police gave Brooks a field sobriety test, which he failed, the GBI said. He resisted arrest and struggled with officers, the GBI said.

An officer drew his Taser and, witnesses said, the man grabbed it, the statement said. An officer then shot him.

Brooks was taken to a hospital, where he died, the statement said.

One officer was treated for an injury and released, the GBI said.

The GBI is investigating at the request of the APD, the statement said. Once completed, the case will be turned over to prosecutors for review.

CNN has reached out to the APD, GBI and the mayor’s office but they have not responded.

CNN affiliate WSB reports this is the 48th police shooting the GBI has investigated in 2020

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