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College admissions scam rekindles scrutiny of Kushner's Harvard acceptance, $2.5M pledge

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6 days ago Christal Hayes
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WASHINGTON – The college admissions bribery investigation that led to charges on Tuesday against 50 people, including CEOs and Hollywood celebrities, has placed a new focus on how President Donald Trump's son-in-law got into Harvard. 

Jared Kushner, who serves as a top aide to Trump, and his acceptance to the Ivy League school was investigated as part of the 2006 book "The Price of Admission" written by ProPublica editor Daniel Golden

The book examined how the nation's wealthy buy their children into prestigious schools with tax write-offs and other donations. One such donation was made by Kushner's father, real estate developer Charles Kushner. 

Golden wrote a 2016 story after Trump won the presidency, about his book and specifically a legal $2.5 million donation that Charles Kushner pledged to Harvard in 1998. It wasn't long after, according to Golden, that his son was accepted to the prestigious school. 

More: Felicity Huffman released on bail after allegedly bribing to get kid into college as part of sweeping admissions scandal

Gordon noted that at the time, Harvard only accepted one out of every nine applicants and those at Jared Kushner's high school didn't believe his grades or test scores were good enough to attend the school. 

In response to the allegations, Risa Heller, a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies, told ProPublica that it was "false" that the donation was linked to Jared Kushner's acceptance. She said that his parents "are enormously generous and have donated over 100 million dollars to universities, hospitals and other charitable causes."

He continued: "Jared Kushner was an excellent student in high school and graduated from Harvard with honors."

While others who made large donations to Harvard had been former students, Gordon noted Charles Kushner had not attended the school. Gordon said he examined why Kushner would give millions to the school and found both of his sons enrolled there. 

Gordon reported that unlike other large gifts to the school, Harvard hadn't sent out press releases announcing the donations. He said he found the donations in Kushner's finances after subpoenas from federal authorities made them public. 

Jared Kushner wearing a suit and tie © Provided by USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Satellite Information Network, Inc.

Charles Kushner was convicted in 2005 of tax evasion, making illegal campaign donations and witness tampering. 

But the tale of Kushner's donation and his son's acceptance was only one case. The book also examined how others, including the sons of former vice president Al Gore, were admitted into schools. 

Those admissions became the center of conversation on Tuesday after federal officials announced what they called the nation's largest-ever college admissions bribery case prosecuted by the Justice Department.

The investigation netted charges against 50 people, including CEOs, prominent financiers, college athletic coaches and actresses such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

More: 'Full House' fans express shock as Lori Loughlin is indicted in college admissions bribery case

More: Fake disabilities, photoshopped faces: How feds say celebrities, coaches and scammers got kids into elite colleges

Federal prosecutors say it was all part of an elaborate conspiracy that involved cheating on the SAT and ACT and parents paying coaches "enormous sums" to get their children into elite universities and colleges by fabricating their athletic credentials.

Huffman, best known for her role on TV's "Desperate Housewives," is accused of paying $15,000 to a made-up charitable organization that then helped her daughter cheat on the SATs. Huffman also discussed the scheme in a recorded phone call with a cooperating witness, according to the investigation. 

Loughlin, who starred in the 1990s sitcom "Full House," is also facing the same felony charges — conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors say Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, another defendant, paid bribes of $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as crew team recruits at the University of Southern California even though neither participated in the sport.

As part of the nationwide conspiracy, coaches agreed to pretend that the children of parents who paid bribes were highly recruited athletes when they didn't even compete in that particular sport, prosecutors said.

More individuals, including additional parents, could be later charged amid the still-ongoing multi-state FBI investigation, which took on the code name "Operation Varsity Blues" by law enforcement when it was launched 10 months ago. 

The schools, including Yale, Georgetown and Stanford universities, USC, UCLA, the University of Texas and Wake Forest University, are not targets of the sweeping investigation, prosecutors said. And no students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the teenagers were not aware of the fraud.

Others charged included three people who organized the scams, two ACT and SAT exam administrators, one exam proctor, and one college administrator. 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. 

Contributing: Joey Garrison and Maria Puente, USA TODAY.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College admissions scam rekindles scrutiny of Kushner's Harvard acceptance, $2.5M pledge

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