Donna Heinel, the former USC senior associate athletic director in Los Angeles, agreed to a plea deal this week after being accused of helping the children of wealthy and powerful people across the country get into college by posing as fake sports recruits. The 60-year-old Heinel faces up to 46 months in prison after what people are calling the "Operation Varsity Blues" scandal.
Heinel, who just listed her Long Beach home for near two million dollars, worked with William "Rick" Singer over four years to fraudulently obtain admission for well-connected applicants to the country's top universities. Heinel allegedly amassed over 1.3 million dollars in exchange for bringing admissions committees fake recruits. And that is not all investigators think Heinel was up to.
Donna Heinel had been suspected of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and other federal charges before officially entering a plea deal. She admitted to earning up to $20,000 per month in exchange for her illegal actions in relation to the scandal that centered around the elite Los Angeles university.
The scheme made Los Angeles headlines when well-known actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin pled guilty to paying to get their children into top universities when they did not obtain admission on their own.
Heinel's official plea was for a crime called "honest services wire fraud." This crime is defined as, "a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." So, in fact, it isn't remotely an "honest" crime. It is the crime of depriving someone else of honest services. Honest services fraud usually includes three people - the person paying an amount of money that is considered a bribe, the person who accepts this bribe, and the person who is impacted by the transaction.
The "Operation Varsity Blues" situation was, by far, not an isolated incident. According to the University of Southern California's FAQ sheet, the institution has found a number of other students who have violated the admissions process. The website says, "Going at least as far back as 2012, we identified that an average of 12 students per year, out of an average of 240 students per year who are admitted as student-athletes, ultimately were not on a team roster."
The Downtown Los Angeles university states seven ways on their website that they have effectively reformed the athletics admissions process, but they still understand they will remain under public scrutiny for the foreseeable future.