The recent nationwide scam where wealthy parents were paying college coaches to say their kids were athletes, having ringers, (disguised as test proctors no less,) take SAT and ACT tests, or paying for test administrators to change their answers is classic example of white collar crime as reported in the NY Times March 12, 2019. And this is nothing new. A quick Google search will quickly reveal accusations in 2012 of a scheme spanning 15 years where an educator, Clarence Mumford, Sr. was accused of taking entrance exams for $1,500 to $3,000. So criminal defense lawyers get calls from television networks to explain what type of charges will be filed. Dan Smith, supervising attorney and third generation lawyer in San Diego says it is a “white collar crime which sounds ridiculously clean....it is not. ”
Unlike most other crimes, white collar crime is not usually inspired by a sense of necessity. Drug crimes are caused by addiction. Violent crimes are often spontaneous. “The college bribe scheme that was revealed this week is a great example of the privileged few wanting even more without having to earn it.” Says San Diego white collar criminal defense attorney Daniel Smith.
Often times, white collar crime is portrayed in the media (or prosecutor’s press release) to be rich or well off people who are simply greedy. They are accused of cheating on their taxes to keep more for themselves when the prosecutors and agents don’t want to pay anymore taxes than the next person. Prosecutors will use five dollar adjectives such as “cupidity” defined as the inordinate desire for wealth, avarice or just plain greed in describing defendants much like Michael Avenati in the alleged scandal revealed just after the ides of March 2019.
But a defense attorney must appeal to a jury in cases in ways that they understand or can at least sympathize. Who doesn’t want their kids to go to prestigious schools for the best education as well as the bragging rights for the parents themselves. I think we all are proud when even a cousin or a niece is admitted to a good school. And, parents get carried away. It starts with little league when a parent argues so passionately over a foul ball, you would think their child was up for MVP and their batting average is the only thing keeping them from a multi-million dollar contract. It is human nature!
It is true that rich kids already have a huge advantage getting into the best colleges. They don’t have to work to help support themselves or their families that can afford tutors, test prep courses, advisors on the college application process, et cetera. Most working class people and poorer people can’t afford tutors for SAT or ACT college entrance exams.
But a good defense attorney might argue that there is not a lot of room left after affirmative action plans level the playing field. But affirmative action is dead! But is it? Most of us are not sure and there is convincing empirical evidence that a student, Daniel Paul Maes of Williams College (disclosure: the student cited is my nephew!), recently brought to light showing that affirmative action, or it remnants, is justified.
A good defense lawyer is going to break it down to a common denominator that will get each juror to feel and admit that it is defensible to do whatever you can, shy of taking someone’s life, to help their child. That is, if you can argue that your child is in an “under-represented class” you do. If you can pay for SAT prep, you pay. If you can start a scholarship fund that is greatly appreciated by the school your child is applying to then doesn’t that help everyone? And would anyone think that they would be an alleged of committing a white collar crime if they did something so wonderful as giving away money in a scholarship fund? What would you do if you had the means because it may be human nature that we have the motive!