We’ve all been following the story of the college admissions bribery scheme. The reporters have continued to call it bribery and fraud without actually saying what laws were broken. It drives me nuts, because by themselves bribery and fraud or lying (except in specific contexts) are generally civil matters or not against the law at all. I can pass a waiter $20 to get a better table. Is that bribery? Yes, yes it is. Is it a crime? No.

There are other situations where bribery or lying are decidedly not crimes. Are they unethical? Sure, but criminal they are not. In many cases, things will get you fired. You violated a policy. You accepted a bribe for special treatment for a client. You get fired. The company may sue you for damages, but generally law enforcement doesn’t get involved.

So, I ask, what was the crime that Huffman and the rest committed? If people can donate directly to the school in a quid pro quo fashion to gain admittance for their children, how were these modest sums resulting in substantial federal charges for basically the same behavior?

Why are they throwing the book at these people?

Felicity Huffman, “pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying $15,000 to have a proctor correct her eldest daughter’s SAT answers in 2017.

Because they used the mail.

If they had conducted these transactions in person only, they probably would have been okay, but because they mailed things and conducted the unethical behavior using the USPS, it’s now a Federal crime.

It really doesn’t seem fair to me honestly. Were they stupid? Yes. Are they terrible people? Yes. But these laws were meant to stop perpetrators of schemes to defraud retired Americans, stop multi-level marketing schemes, Nigerian prince, and other wholesale theft schemes. In my mind it’s a pretty big stretch to say these individuals deprived others of services. It’s an embarrassing episode, they should suffer repercussions, but I find the spectacle unnecessary and a waste of Federal resources.