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Marketing guru Jane Buckingham caught up in college admissions scandal

David Ng and Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

LOS ANGELES -- For years, Hollywood turned to marketing guru Jane Buckingham to find out what kids really want, drawing on her extensive expertise on the youth zeitgeist. She once charged $2,500 a head to attend her Trend School, a seminar focusing on the consumption habits of Generations X and Y.

But Buckingham, 50, now faces federal charges that she was involved in the widespread college admissions scheme that has ensnared Hollywood celebrities and shined a light on how wealthy parents allegedly paid bribes to give their children an advantage in the competitive process.

Buckingham, who once authored a book titled "The Modern Girl's Guide to Sticky Situations," wanted desperately for her son to attend the University of Southern California. So the Los Angeles marketing maven -- once called the Martha Stewart of the younger generation -- turned to William Singer, a college admissions adviser, to help her son score high on the ACT standardized test, prosecutors alleged.

Together, they allegedly arranged for Buckingham to make a $50,000 donation to a charitable organization in exchange for someone to take the test in place of her son, according to charges filed Tuesday by Department of Justice officials.

The substitute test taker scored a 35 for the son -- in the 99th percentile.

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin are among those facing charges, as well as Bill McGlashan, founder of TPG Growth, a division of private equity firm TPG Capital.

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The defendants allegedly tried to get their kids into top-tier schools including Yale and Georgetown. The alleged scheme also targeted USC and UCLA.

The Department of Justice alleged in its filing Tuesday that Buckingham paid $50,000 to Key Worldwide Foundation, the Newport Beach charity run by Singer. In all, parents paid Singer about $25 million, according to officials.

Wiretapped phone transcripts released by officials showed Buckingham arranging the logistics for the individual to take the test for her son and for the payments.

At one point, she asked if it would be possible for her to obtain a copy of the exam that she could have her son take at home so that he would believe he had taken the test, while the other person took the actual exam on his behalf. She also provided her son's handwriting samples.

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