For Vanity Fair, Evgenia Peretz puts five rich Southern California families under the microscope, to see how and why they paid disgusting amounts of money to Rick Singer, a slimy college counseling guru who turned a legit business into an illicit one. Many people expect the rich and famous to, as Peretz’s title puts it, “Cheat and Lie in L.A.” They expect vacuousness, materialism, and a mortal devotion to status. That is certainly the case with this Los Angeles chapter of the college admissions scandal. But you don’t expect it from people who make their livings as parenting gurus, who talk about doing good for the world and their community, or who present themselves as what Peretz calls “exemplary human beings.”
For Singer, they were the perfect targets. Any parent obsessed with curating an image of affluence, good taste, and beneficence was exactly the sort to fixate unreasonably on a degree from Georgetown or USC. In a world dictated by status symbols, having “a kid at Yale” was the Holy Grail, the ultimate proof of a life worth envying—even if their kid was only interested in plugging products on Instagram. L.A. was teeming with such showboats. Five families, presented here, each interconnected to the others, lived behind that glossy façade. They were pillars of the community at their children’s private schools. They talked about “doing good” and “giving back.” Their kids were friends with one another on social media, a tribute to their own social significance. (Those children’s first names that have not appeared elsewhere have been changed.) But their fates diverge: Two got caught; two have come away unscathed—so far—despite dubious entanglements; and one exposed it all, for a reason no more noble than to save his own skin.