Should Californians who bribe other Californians have to fly to Boston to be prosecuted?

One thing that I haven’t figured out in the college bribery case (see and is why the defendants are having to fly to Boston to be prosecuted by the Federal government.

Consider an actress who lives in Los Angeles, California and is alleged to have bribed a ringleader who lives in Newport Beach, California, to get a child into University of Southern California. I’ve just finished listening to a lecture series on the Founding Fathers and I don’t think any of them would have imagined the California resident having to travel out of state to be prosecuted.

Suppose that everyone can agree that the alleged actions are crimes. Why are they federal crimes?


12 thoughts on “Should Californians who bribe other Californians have to fly to Boston to be prosecuted?

  1. Was it simply a convenience issue for the prosecuters as Huffman, Loughlin, et al have the means to fly via NetJets to Boston???

  2. The federal aspect is because it’s a fraud that used mail and electronic (wire) communications to commit the fraud. Those communications crossed state lines.

    Had the mail or wire stayed within one state, it would not be a federal crime. I haven’t read the full indictment, but the prosecutors are competent. There must be some mail or wire that crossed state lines as part of this.

    As for Massachusetts, the rules are certainly complex. I suspect that the major factor is that the investigations started in MA with investigations of activities at Harvard and spread from there. So a lot of the players are in MA, and it’s easy enough for the others to travel to MA.

    • Most people, including criminals, make phone calls and send emails or texts that cross state lines on a daily basis. If you think the incidental use of the phone and email renders federal jurisdiction sensible, why not get rid of state prosecutors and state criminal courts and just say that all crime is now federal crime?

  3. FRCP 18 states that “[u]nless a statute or these rules permit otherwise, the government must prosecute an offense in a district where the offense was committed. The court must set the place of trial within the district with due regard for the convenience of the defendant, any victim, and the witnesses, and the prompt administration of justice.” This seems to indicate that the California resident must have committed a crime in Mass. (maybe he or she applied to a Mass. school or traveled to Mass. as part of the conspiracy or there is a statute governing this prosecution that permits venue to be laid in Mass.

  4. Could also be that an alleged member of a conspiracy can be prosecuted in the district where any member of the conspiracy allegedly committed an illegal act.

  5. The Federal aspect is because these are RICO Act prosecutions. As for the plane trips, I think Jack is on to something. It all started for the FBI in Boston. There’s a very interesting timeline in the Wikipedia entry, which has grown like the inflationary universe since the scandal broke:

    “Authorities became aware of the scheme around April 2018 when Morrie Tobin, who was under investigation in an unrelated case for alleged pump-and-dump conspiracy and securities fraud, offered information in exchange for leniency in the previously existing, unrelated case.[16] An alumnus of Yale, he told authorities that the Yale women’s soccer head coach, Rudolph “Rudy” Meredith, had asked him for $450,000 in exchange for helping his youngest daughter gain admission to the school.[17] As part of his cooperation with the FBI, ***Tobin wore a recording device while talking to Meredith in a Boston hotel on April 12, 2018***…” Emphasis mine.

    So Morrie ratted out Rudy and wore a wire for the FBI about this college admissions racket he knew about in exchange for leniency regarding his many other grievous misdeeds. They met at a hotel in Boston, which I guess is why Lelling (U.S. Attorney District of MA) and so forth. It all began in Boston, and so that’s where it all stayed. That’s not a very fine-grained analysis but at least it makes some sense. As for Morrie, he’s scheduled for sentencing in June and instead of looking at eight to ten years in the clink the prosecutors are recommending 36 months of supervised release! So it was a good exchange from his point of view.

    And look, Elizabeth Warren got to comment:

    “Elizabeth Warren, United States Senator from Massachusetts (where all the criminal cases were filed), told news media that the scandal represented ‘just one more example of how the rich and powerful know how to take care of their own.'”

    And who would know better than her?

  6. The jurisdiction might be in order but the larger point is solid: why do some elite colleges get federal anti-mob protection for admissions fraud? Certainly there are crimes here but RICO is overcharging

    • It appears to be a “victimless” offense. The accused certainly did not enjoy unjust enrichment, they paid an enormous premium (presumed illegal bribe and act of conspiracy) for the privilege of paying full freight at expensive private universities, where the product, a degree is not guaranteed. They were not beneficiaries of federal grants or loans (I am guessing). The universities were able to select their matriculants and and may decide their class size for admissions, and presumably there is an anticipated range for each class enrolling accounting for applicants choosing other schools , and the numbers drawn off waitlists are likely variable. You could say it was unfair, but would it have been any fairer had Ms. Loughlin or any other of the accused made a same-value gift to the university directly (that would have been legally tax-deductible) and enjoyed reciprocal favoritism as a generous benefactor as many private universities are well known for doing (and which is perfectly lawful?

  7. To Philip and Dave:

    While looking at some of the links in the Wikipedia entry, I learned that apparently the first time RICO was used against *car dealers* was 2006.

    I have no reason to doubt the guy who wrote the article to inform car dealers to be wary of possible RICO claims, and if they were being used against car dealer groups in 2006 it’s somewhat less of a surprise they’re now being used to prosecute this case.

    Take a look here:

    • Sorry 2008. I read the last 8 as a 6. I was surprised to read that article. I hadn’t imagined RICO being used against Corleone Nissan, but the article puts it exactly that way. Well, if they were using it against somebody’s car dealership I’m not surprised to see it being used against an interstate college admissions fraud racket that all comes back to Singer and his operation.

      It was a much more sophisticated scheme than I initially thought. He really tailored his approach to the individual client’s wishes! Sometimes he bought the students extra time taking the exams by paying psychologists to create fictitious disabilities. Sometimes the students themselves didn’t know. Lots of variations, he was really versatile! He admitted to more than 750 “placements.”

      The question you both seem to be asking, though, would really require someone with a deep understanding of the history of RICO Act claims. When and why they started using it against organizations other than the Mafia must be in a book or a professor’s mind somewhere. RICO only began in 1970, so there has to be a law professor somewhere who probably has read everything about it….

  8. Alex’s prediction about Morrie Tobin (has bought himself a great deal) begs the question — how many months will Felicity Huffman actually serve? Perhaps in the same women’s prison as Miss Martha Stewart? If she’s spared prison time, and given “supervised release” similar to astronaut Lisa Nowak, is this fair & reasonable? (Do taxpayers need to spend money on Felicity’s incarceration?)

    Just floating an idea to make use of
    Why doesn’t the Desperate Housewife fund summer tutoring in the Colorado mountain air for rising seniors in high school from disadvantaged families? A more equitable way to re-pay the damage she’s done to the whole college admissions process??? (Maybe that Harvard genius who corrected daughter Sofia’s test could be the head instructor if he’s not yet in prison.) Would judge in Boston next month consider something along these lines if Felicity were to offer it up or am I totally off-base?

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