This week ,we chat the UK reopening (sort of). We discussed the arrest in the Kristen Smart case. We review the Netflix documentary “Operation Varisty Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” and the docu-series “Murder Among the Mormons”. We finish with another weird crime involving a bird – at least we are consistent!
OPERATION VARISTY BLUES: THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS SCANDAL
Operation Varsity Blues is a new documentary from Netflix that covers the College Admissions Scandal from 2019 in the US. That spring, an investigation code-named Operation Varsity Blues revealed that wealthy families had used bribes to guarantee places at prestigious universities for their children, as part of a scheme organised by William ‘Rick’ Singer, a former basketball coach turned independent college counsellor.
The documentary is directed by Chris Smith who also did the Fyre Festival documentary from a few years ago.
The FBI alleged that beginning in 2011, 33 parents of high school students conspired with other people to use bribery and other forms of fraud to illegally arrange to have their children admitted to top colleges and universities. Authorities became aware of the scheme around April 2018 when Los Angeles businessman Morrie Tobin was being wire taped in other case. He offered up William Rick Singer who was the head of this scheme. When Singer was approached, he agreed to help the FBI catch and incriminate the parents.
Singer’s scheme proved so popular with concerned upper-class parents, because it occupied a grey area, exploiting pre-existing loopholes in the system. He referred to each successful case, euphemistically, as finding a ‘side door’ into these elite institutions (getting in on merit would, by his logic, be entering through the ‘front door,’ while making multi-million-dollar donations would be the ‘back door’ route.
Federal prosecutors alleged a college-admission scheme that involved:
- bribing exam administrators to facilitate cheating on college and university entrance exams.
- bribing coaches and administrators of elite universities to nominate unqualified applicants as elite recruited athletes, thus facilitating the applicants’ admission.
- using a charitable organization to conceal the source and nature of laundered bribery payments
The documentary comes in here and recreated the phone conversations with actor Matthew Modine as Singer.
It was a huge story in the US especially several actresses were arrested as well. Felicity Huffman of Desperate Housewives fame was arrested and after pleading guilty to paying $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s entrance exam answers and she served 11 days of a 14-day sentence in a California jail later that year. Also, actress Lori Loughlin who was in the 90’s sitcom Full House and starred in loads of Hallmark Movies. She completed a two-month prison sentence for paying $500,000 to get her two daughters into the University of Southern California. Singer, meanwhile, cooperated with federal investigators and later pleaded guilty to racketeering; he is yet to be sentenced.
The documentary does a good job of painting the picture with the re-enactments without being really cheesy or naff. I think it was a good decision to use a proper actor a Singer.
MURDER AMONG THE MORMONS
Recently I watched this 3-part docu-series on Netflix, did you guys watch it? My partner and I actually watched it all in one sitting which was surprising! And I didn’t know this case which made it a lot more interesting.
No obvious spoilers here in case you do watch it.
Our story takes place in Salt Lake City in 1985. A series of pipe bombs kills two people and severely injures another. It’s not clear why these bombs were planted or if there’s more. But there may be a connection to the Church of Latter Day Saints or the LDS. There are a LOT of historical documents in this area relating to the church, and the business of collecting these documents is BOOMING, no pun intended. Loads of people research, discover, sell these documents.
The murders send further shockwaves through the community when numerous early Mormon letters and diaries are found destroyed in the vehicle of the third victim, Mark Hofmann, a renowned collector of rare documents, including the infamous White Salamander Letter – an artefact whose contents threatened to shake the very foundations of Mormonism. Essentially, some documents that were found and potentially destroyed this in bomb may contradict everything that Mormons believe to be true.
As Hofmann fights for his life, investigators race to uncover the truth.
MURDER AMONG THE MORMONS is the first comprehensive look at one of the most shocking crimes to have ever taken place among the Mormon community and the criminal mastermind behind it all.
The first episode or two were a bit confusing to me – there’s a lot of characters and they’re all white men with similar names and kind of look like each other. But the third episode was so shocking and eery that it completely makes up for any confusion or “slowness” earlier in the show.
We get a lot of information on LDS, LDS-related documents, some troubles within the church. But by the end, it does make sense why this stuff is important, even if it feels a bit slow beforehand.
We DO find our killer and the interviews with said person is shocking.
Overall I thought it was an interesting watch! It’s a bit slow and confusing at first but I found the last episode very shocking and worth a watch. The interviews were interesting, including one of the friends who looks like a more flamboyant version of Winston Churchill – and we get a lot fo actual footage too.
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