A number of wealthy and prominent parents were arrested this week as part of a widespread academic admission scandal, which sparked outrage across the country.
Celebrities and finance officials have been accused of paying bribes to secure places for their children at the best universities, either by cheating on tests or posing as sports recruits.
But legal experts say that it's unlikely that any of the parents will serve a prison sentence – or if it's the case, it will be minimal.
Fines and public interest work are much more likely, and justice could be more effective if it came from outside the criminal justice system, said a federal prosecutor at INSIDER.
For example, revoking the acceptances of any student admitted under false pretenses could be a start.
A number of celebrities and leaders began appearing in court in the corruption scandal that drew dozens of wealthy parents this week and sparked heated debate over the role of wealth in university admissions.
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday accused about 50 people of a $ 25 million program to get places in competing schools for children of affluent parents – in some cases by defrauding standardized tests, and in other cases by bribing coaches and administrators for them to admit the children as such. sports recruits, according to the indictments.
The conviction has been almost universal: several schools have opened an internal investigation, children have been retaliated online, accused parents have suffered professional repercussions and everyone from senior White House officials to 2020 presidential candidates , said publicly that he was disgusted with the so-called racket.
The brain of the ploy, William Singer, pleaded guilty Tuesday and told a judge that all the allegations against him were true.
But for parents accused of bribing their children in the best schools in the country, lawyers do not clearly explain what consequences they will suffer – or whether one of them will actually serve a prison sentence.
"A touch of prison"
Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who spent 12 years at the Department of Justice, is by far the most likely punishment for parents – including such figures as actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin – is a hefty fine and a community work.
The federal guidelines will probably recommend sentences ranging from zero to six months in prison, Cramer said. But he added that reasonable minds may differ on the question of whether to consider a prison sentence, especially since these parents are rich enough to pay a fine and they probably will not see them. hours of community service as a deterrent.
"Is it really a penalty for these parents? No, he told INSIDER. "If you told them from the beginning that it was like that it was going to play:" You will pay $ 400,000 US and you will do a community service, would you still do it? There is no doubt about that, because they wanted to bring their child to Stanford.
Read more: 8 colleges have been named in the massive college admissions scandal. This is how they react.
According to Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor and professor at Loyola Law School, another factor likely to influence sentencing is whether one of the parents sought tax benefits for his alleged bribes . Prosecutors have accused some parents of donating bribes to Singer's fake non-profit organization Key Worldwide Foundation.
But if parents end up being convicted, Levenson said, the judge will likely juggle with a variety of factors to determine their sentence. For example, some parents might attempt to negotiate cooperation agreements with prosecutors as witnesses, as Singer did.
Beyond that, many parents do not have a criminal record, which weighs in their favor, said Levenson.
"There may be, as we call it, a touch of prison, a taste of incarceration. Or a separate sentence, so that they can tell how bad it is. Or it can be a simple probation, "said Levenson at the INSIDE. "No, I do not see them going to a high security federal prison as a result of their conviction."
As for Singer and the coaches who were accused of taking advantage of this scheme, Levenson said it was impossible to say which deals they had been able to negotiate with prosecutors. But she added that she was unlikely to receive the maximum 20-year prison sentence allowed by the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO), which punishes conspirators.
In fact, she added that they were more likely to face sentences similar to the 47- and 43-month-old sentences recently imposed on Paul Manafort, former president of Donald Trump's campaign.
"Some of these guys have contracts and may have already registered a maximum sentence. But any kind of punishment depends on their degree of cooperation and the effectiveness of that cooperation, "said Levenson. "So, could it be a Manafort punishment? Yeah. This is what white-collar criminals tend to have.
But justice in a situation like this can go far beyond what the criminal justice system can reasonably achieve.
Cramer said that students accepted under false pretenses were replacing children who would otherwise have been accepted – and that the only just solution may be to revoke the acceptance of any student still enrolled in the schools.
"The definition of justice is that we have to put people in the position that they would have been if they had not committed the crime," Cramer said. "If children are allowed to stay in these schools, under false pretenses … and they are allowed to graduate with this degree, the crime was worth it. And if the crime was worth it, it goes against the concept of the criminal justice system. "
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