Mar 12, 2019

Axios PM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

✈️ Situational awareness: 33 countries, including all of the EU, and nearly 30 airlines have suspended operation of Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets. See the list.

1 big thing: Operation Varsity Blues

Today's cheating allegations will make a blockbuster movie script: Rich, privileged people trying to cheat their way through the system, complete with over-the-top efforts to conceal their alleged actions from their children and a dash of celebrity to boot.

  • The alleged crimes uncovered by Operation Varsity Blues "included cheating on entrance exams, as well as bribing college officials to say certain students were coming to compete on athletic teams when those students were not in fact athletes," WashPost reported.
  • "Numerous schools were targeted, including Georgetown University, Yale University, Stanford University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and UCLA."
  • College coaches were in on it at some of these schools, taking huge kickbacks to pass off students as recruits, the indictments allege.
  • Axios Sports editor Kendall Baker notes: On the heels of the college basketball recruiting scandal, in which college coaches paid bribes to the parents of top high school athletes, we now have the rich parents of mediocre (at best) high school athletes paying off college coaches.
  • The indictments also allege parents actively hid their actions from their children, some of whom were reportedly unaware their admissions were unearned.
  • The scheme was allegedly coordinated by college admissions adviser William Singer, who used a nonprofit as a "slush fund" for bribes as the WashPost characterized it.

Why it matters: This was the "largest college admittance scam ever charged by the Department of Justice," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said today.

  • "Thirty-three parents were charged ... prosecutors said there could be additional indictments to come," the N.Y. Times reported.
  • "The parents included the television star Lori Loughlin and her husband, the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli; the actress Felicity Huffman; and William E. McGlashan Jr., a partner at the private equity firm TPG."
  • "We're not talking about donating a building ... we're talking about fraud," Lelling said.
  • Go deeper: See the full list of people charged.

The bottom line: These weren't victimless actions. It's likely that teens whose parents weren't allegedly paying millions to cheat the system were denied spots at these schools.

Bonus: Lost cause
Photo: Tom Foreman Jr./AP

A workman prepares a Confederate statue for removal today from the grounds of an old courthouse in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, per AP:

  • "Construction crews ... spent more than an hour attaching a harness and a cage-like metal frame to protect the statue of an anonymous soldier, then hoisted it from atop its pedestal with a large crane."
  • "A small group of onlookers clapped and cheered as the statue was taken down and placed on a flatbed truck."

The 30-foot "monument includes a granite statue atop a base and column and was dedicated in 1905."

2. What you missed
  1. A storm is forecast to move out of the southwest U.S. and rapidly intensify over the plains of Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas on Wednesday, bringing a wide array of life-threatening weather hazards for a large part of the country. Go deeper.
  2. Axios' Dan Primack watched a screener copy of "The Inventor," an upcoming HBO documentary from Alex Gibney on the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood-testing company, Theranos. Dan's takeaways.
  3. Venezuela is investigating National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó for an alleged attack on Venezuela's power grid. Guaidó's safety is considered a red line for the U.S. Details.
  4. Ned Sharpless will be acting commissioner of the FDA. He is the current director of the National Cancer Institute.
  5. Andrew Yang has qualified for the first round of the Democratic primary debate by raising money from more than 65,000 unique donors. Details.
  6. P.S. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May suffered another massive Brexit defeat in the House of Commons, setting up votes on whether to leave the EU with no deal or seek more time to negotiate ahead of the March 29 deadline.
3. 1 Bolt thing
Usain Bolt touts scooter outside New York City Hall today. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

"The effort to bring e-scooters to the streets of New York got a jolt ... from star sprinter Usain Bolt," the NY Daily News reports:

  • The greatest sprinter in the world lent his backing to Bolt, a company with scooters in Fort Lauderdale that's trying to make them legal in New York.
  • "The first thing people always say to me when I get somewhere late … is that, 'Why didn’t you run?'" Bolt joked. "Now I actually have the Bolt scooter."

In many cities, regulations limit e-scooters to around 15 mph. That’s slower than Bolt can run — he set a world record with 27.8 mph in 2009, per The News.

  • "Sometimes you need to slow down," Bolt said.
Mike Allen