Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin appeared in Boston’s federal court and one parent has agreed to plead guilty in a widespread college admissions scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”

Thirteen people, including Huffman, Loughlin, and Loughlin’s husband (fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli), made brief appearances before Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelly on Wednesday afternoon, three weeks after the charges were announced.

Loughlin, Huffman, and Giannulli face charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in the largest admissions bribery case in U.S. history, in which authorities say parents, athletic coaches, and exam administrators facilitated cheating on admissions and exams to get students into elite schools.

In court Wednesday, the three answered questions to affirm they understood their rights. They were not asked to enter pleas, said little during the hearing, and were freed on bail.

Meanwhile, Peter Jan Sartorio, a California entrepreneur, became the first parent charged in the scam to agree to plea guilty, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what charges he would plead to or when the plea would happen. The packaged-food entrepreneur, who did not appear in court Wednesday, had been accused of paying cash to have someone correct his daughter’s answers on the ACT.

Fifty people were charged last month in the scandal, which has since sparked a national debate on inequality. Here’s what to know about the case.

Charges and consequences

On March 12, federal authorities announced the charges accusing dozens of cheating and bribing their children’s way into universities like Yale, Stanford, University of Southern California, Wake Forest, and Georgetown, among others. Authorities allege William “Rick” Singer, 58, who ran a college-counseling business, conspired with many to get students into the schools.

Loughlin, of Full House fame, and husband Giannulli, known for his “Mossimo” clothing line formerly sold at Target, are accused of paying $500,000 to have their daughters Isabella Rose and influencer Olivia Jade pose as crew recruits to get into USC, despite never having participated in the sport.

Two people hold cutout photos of actress Lori Loughlin outside federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, where Loughlin is scheduled to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.
Charles Krupa / AP
Two people hold cutout photos of actress Lori Loughlin outside federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, where Loughlin is scheduled to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

Huffman, who starred as Lynette Scavo on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, is accused of paying $15,000 to better the SAT scores of her oldest daughter, Sofia Grace Macy. Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, was not charged.

The charges weren’t the only consequences from the sweeping scandal. The Hallmark Channel dropped Loughlin, who starred in the series When Calls the Heart and some of the network’s movies, shortly after. Sephora and TRESemme also cut ties with Olivia Jade, whose popular lifestyle, fashion and beauty YouTube videos garner hundreds of thousands of views.

Local reaction

No local college or university was named in the scandal, but it shared similarities to an incident at the University of Pennsylvania, in which the Ivy League school’s former basketball coach took money, a recruiting trip to Miami, and rides on a private jet from a wealthy businessman who wanted his son to get into the college, the Inquirer has reported.

The scandal also ignited a national conversation about the college admissions process.

Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, called the allegations “another sign of a badly broken system,” in an op-ed for the Inquirer. Peter Van Buskirk, who worked in admissions at Franklin and Marshall College for more than two decades, said he wasn’t surprised by the case.

“The whole college-going process has evolved into a race, if you will, to get to the end of bigger and better things,” he told the Inquirer last month. “These days, there are some families that attach a premium to their kids only attending a certain kind of school, and they are willing to do whatever it takes. Ethics be damned.”

This story contains information from the Associated Press.