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Huffman, 12 other parents to plead guilty in college scheme

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  • BOSTON — Actress Felicity Huffman and a dozen other prominent parents have agreed to plead guilty in the sweeping college admissions cheating scam that has ensnared wealthy families and athletic coaches at some of the nation’s most selective universities, federal authorities said Monday.

    The “Desperate Housewives” star and the other parents will admit to charges in the scheme, which authorities say involved rigging standardized test scores and bribing coaches at such prestigious schools as Yale and Georgetown.

    Huffman, 56, was accused of paying a consultant $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation to boost her daughter’s SAT score. Authorities say the actress also discussed going through with the same plan for her younger daughter but ultimately decided not to.

    Other parents charged in the scheme include prominent figures in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields.

    It’s the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. The scandal embroiled elite universities across the country and laid bare the lengths to which status-seeking parents will go to secure their children a coveted spot.

    The consultant, Rick Singer, met with Huffman and her husband, 69-year-old actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them he “controlled” a testing centre and could have somebody secretly change their daughter’s answers, authorities say. Singer told investigators Huffman and her husband agreed to the plan.

    Macy was not charged. Authorities have not said why.

    Huffman will plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud, according to court documents.

    In a statement offering her first public comments since her arrest last month, she apologized, took responsibility for her actions and said she would accept the consequences.

    “My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her. This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life. My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty,” Huffman said.

    Michael Center, the former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, has also agreed to plead guilty, prosecutors said Monday. Center was accused of accepting nearly $100,000 to help a non-tennis playing applicant get admitted as a recruit.

    California real estate developer Bruce Isackson and his wife, Davina Isackson, who are pleading guilty to participating in both the athletic recruitment and exam rigging schemes, are co-operating with prosecutors for a chance at a lighter sentence.

    “We have worked co-operatively with the prosecutors and will continue to do so as we take full responsibility for our bad judgment,” they said in a statement.

    Fellow actress Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House,” and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though neither participated in the sport. They were not among those who agreed to plead guilty, and they have not publicly addressed the allegations.

    Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy on March 12, the same day the allegations against the parents and coaches were made public in the so-called Operations Varsity Blues investigation. Singer secretly recorded his conversations with the parents, helping to build the case against them, after agreeing to work with investigators in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence.

    Several coaches have also been charged, including longtime tennis coach Gordon Ernst who’s accused of getting $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 applicants as recruits to Georgetown. Ernst, who was also the personal tennis coach for former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, and other coaches have pleaded not guilty.

    Former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to help students get admitted and has been co-operating with authorities. Stanford’s former sailing coach John Vandemoer also pleaded guilty to accepting $270,000 in contributions to the program for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission.

    Stanford University expelled a student who lied about her sailing credentials in her application, which was linked to the scandal. The university quietly announced it had rescinded the student’s admission in a short statement posted on its website April 2 after determining “some of the material in the student’s application is false.”

    University officials previously said the student was admitted without the recommendation of Vandemoer.

    Alanna Durkin Richer, The Associated Press


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    National

    The hardest choice of this long weekend: Raptors or ‘Game of Thrones’?

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  • TORONTO — As a “Game of Thrones” fanatic who is also a devoted Toronto Raptors fan, Oriana Di Nucci finds herself weighing the pros and cons of what to watch this Sunday when the fantasy saga concludes at the same time her beloved team hosts its first home game of the NBA Eastern Conference final.

    Despite the ubiquity of on-demand viewing, watching event programming live on a traditional television is still the preferred mode to experience mammoth meme-able moments, says the pop culture junkie. But she is still kicking herself for switching to “Game of Thrones” last Sunday just before Kawhi Leonard scored an astonishing buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the playoffs’ second round.

    This Sunday will feature a similar double-draw, when the most critical moments of the Raptors’ Game 3 will almost certainly overlap with the first half-hour or so of the “Game of Thrones” 80-minute finale.

    But Game 3 is a much different proposition than a deciding Game 7, says Di Nucci, who will risk missing another Raptor moment to watch “Game of Thrones” live with her family.

    “I’m really bad at accidentally spoiling things a lot. It’s not good for me and my friends who hadn’t watched it yet,” she explains, expecting both social media and traditional media to be awash with GoT details Sunday night and Monday morning.

    Despite pronouncements that event television is dead, Di Nucci believes the fear-of-missing-out drives many to the tube, often with friends and family in tow.

    And anyway, the advent of time-shifting and on-demand viewing has addressed remote control battles that would have split family viewing just a few years ago, adds sports fan Keith Morris.

    “I’m in my thirties and I remember back then Dad would have been downstairs watching the game and somebody else that was into the show would have been upstairs,” he says, noting screens are also more likely to run simultaneously in the same room.

    “But now with technology you can kind of do it all.”

    This Sunday, Morris will be at his friend’s condo with about 10 others for what’s primarily considered a GoT finale party. But the game will be on, and he expects most guests to trickle in during the second quarter.

    It’ll be especially hard to avoid Raptors fever when they return home Sunday, even with a “Game of Thrones” finale, he predicts.

    “The city is definitely on fire. We have a chance this year,” says the Missouri-born Morris, also devoted to watching the St. Louis Blues chase the NHL’s Stanley Cup.

    Raptors fan Heba Habib of Pickering, Ont., says the choice isn’t hard for her, since Crave makes “Game of Thrones” available as soon as it airs on HBO at 9 p.m. ET. Generally speaking, she ignores linear broadcast.

    “I’ve never really watched television live. I normally watch on-demand, or I watch whenever I have the time. It’s only live games that I normally watch (live),” says Habib, who’ll join a dozen friends to watch Sunday’s game, followed by “Game of Thrones.”

    She says her parents will stay home to focus on the game. 

    Indeed, the proliferation of mass media has actually made the notion of mass consumption less and less the reality, says York University film professor John McCullough.

    “That’s the contradictory thing,” he chuckles. “It seems we have more mass media at our disposal nowadays but in fact the way that mass media (and) content is produced is actually (encouraging) fragmented audiences.”

    That was certainly the case last week for Di Nucci, who watched the Raptors with her sister and parents on the living room TV until she and her father commandeered the set for “Game of Thrones.”

    Her mom and sister were relegated to an upstairs bedroom to finish the game between the Raptors and visiting Philadelphia 76ers. Di Nucci soon realized that was a mistake “based on their yelling and running around.”

    “The timing was not great, right? sighs the 21-year-old.

    “I wish I saw Kawhi’s last shot live. I wish I saw it in the moment, but it happens. It happens. I’ll be there for the next one. I’ll be there for the next big win.”

    Bell Media says “Game of Thrones” has been averaging 2.5 million viewers each week in its Sunday 9 p.m. ET time slot, with no indication that fans delayed viewing habits for the Raptors.

    Sportsnet says last Sunday’s Game 7 attracted an average audience of 2.2 million viewers, a big jump over a typical game. A peak audience of 3.8 million tuned in to catch Leonard’s buzzer-beater.

    If Di Nucci had another screen available at the time, she expects she would have caught Leonard’s shot but she was using her phone to text a friend during “Game of Thrones,” which was being streamed to the television via her laptop.

    There’s no escaping spoilers when a popular entertainment juggernaut captivates social media, says Meg Wheeler of Toronto. For that reason, “Game of Thrones” trumps all viewing, and did so last Sunday when she convinced her partner to switch from Game 7 to watch the series live.

    “We are both so active on Twitter that we know it’ll get spoiled if we don’t watch it live,” says the 28-year-old, admitting to some regret for missing Leonard’s shot.

    “I don’t feel it was that big of a deal — I’ve seen it now so many times replayed — but there is something special about seeing it happen live. It’s one of those things where you would remember where you were when it happened.”

    Habib, meanwhile, has worked out key house rules for watching a delayed “Game of Thrones”: “Nobody can go on social media.”

    “We’re good. As long as it’s not a blowout, we will always watch Raptors first,” she says.

    Being respectful is key, adds Morris, citing past experience in asserting the difficulty of reading online leaks without spoiling the fun for others.

    “If they’re searching through Twitter or people are live tweeting and they’re reading it and they’re getting spoiled, you can kind of read on their face what’s going on,” he says.

    “That’s when we decided to say: ‘Everyone put your phones on the table and turn them over and for 20 minutes let’s just watch the rest of this game and be present in this Toronto moment.'”

    Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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    Rolling Stones to make single Canadian stop in Ontario on North American tour

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  • NEW YORK — The Rolling Stones are ready to get back on the road in North America after postponing their tour because Mick Jagger needed medical treatment.

    The rockers announced Thursday the No Filter tour will kick off in Chicago with two shows on June 21 and 25.

    The band will then make a stop in Canada for a June 29 concert at the outdoor Burl’s Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte, Ont., about 30 kilometres north of Barrie.

    All the cities previously postponed are locked in and there’s a new date in New Orleans.

    Tickets sold for the original dates will be honoured, but those who can’t attend can get refunds by accessing their Ticketmaster accounts.

    The group says in a statement the concerts will feature classic hits such as “Sympathy For The Devil” and “Paint It Black.”

    The No Filter Tour was slated to start April 20 in Miami. However, doctors told the 75-year-old Jagger in late March he couldn’t go on tour.

    The Associated Press

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