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Testing the College Admissions Cheating Scandal Under Pennsylvania's Wiretap Act

On March 12, 2019, the DOJ unveiled “Operation Varsity Blues,” its nationwide college admissions bribery and entrance exam cheating investigation. A key component of the investigation was the cooperation of William Singer,  owner of a “college prep” company, who has admitted to helping wealthy clients’ children gain college admission through bribery, testing manipulation, and false athletic recruiting, among other techniques. Singer’s cooperation was crucial to eventual charges against 50 others in the investigation – including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

Critical for DOJ is evidence gathered from recorded conversations between Singer and coaches, his clients, and others while he wore a government wire. I recently examined this aspect of the investigation in an article for PACDL’s For the Defense (“Anything You Say May be Recorded: Protecting Conversation under the PA Wiretap Act”), looking at how to counsel clients facing similar situations under Pennsylvania’s Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, also known as the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act.

The full article is available here – but some reminders and summary lessons about the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act include:

  • The Varsity Blues investigation’s wiretap evidence likely would be admissible in PA state courts. The Singer recordings likely would be admissible in a state level prosecution because they appear to comply with the Wiretap Act’s single-party consent law enforcement exception.
  • PA is a dual party content state for recorded conversations that parties reasonably expected to remain private, but… the consent of a confidential informant or cooperating witness alone can be sufficient to comply with the Act.
  • The investigation serves as a cautionary tale to clients and practitioners. Conversations that are believed to be private, even if never reduced to writing, may still make their way to law enforcement.

To read the full article, click here.

Disclaimer: This post does not offer specific legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship. You should not reach any legal conclusions based on the information contained in this post without first seeking the advice of counsel.