I anticipate some of the attorneys in the so-called Operation Varsity Blues case, which is being prosecuted in federal court in Boston and involves multiple allegations of bribery and fraud to help certain applicants gain admission to a number of prominent US Colleges, will challenge the government’s reliance on a “Hub and Spoke” theory of conspiratorial liability. As described by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, a hub and spoke conspiracy, is one a where “a central mastermind or hub controls numerous spokes or secondary co-conspirators. These co-conspirators participate in independent transactions with the individual or group of individuals at the hub that collectively further a single, illegal enterprise”. While Hub and Spoke Conspiracies are often the basis for federal anti-trust actions, they can also be applied to general criminal cases. How much knowledge the individual spoke-actor must have of other individual spoke actors, as well as how much knowledge they must have about the overall unlawful scheme and who is doing what in furtherance of it is always a central question. So far, this appears to present more of an obstacle of proof in anti-trust cases than for general criminal cases where courts, including the 6th Circuit Court of appeals in a narcotics case, seem to suggest the individual spoke actor’s knowledge of the overall scheme ( and object of the conspiracy) can be somewhat general.
In this case, Rick Singer, the alleged mastermind behind the rigged admissions process, would be “the Hub”. For the most part, the parents who are accused of bribery and/or fraud would be the “Spokes”.The central question is whether or not parents who allegedly transacted with Singer alone, can be shown to have had the requisite knowledge to be properly joined in a broader-based single conspiracy with other parents who are alleged to have engaged in similar conduct to help their children gain college admission, as well as coaches and/or proxy test-takers, as they are now; or whether they should have been charged in singular conspiracies with Singer and/or any other co-conspirator(s) with whom the evidence can establish they interacted or of whom the evidence shows they were made aware. Because it’s established conspiracy law that “each co-conspirator need not know or have contact with all other members , nor must they know all the details of the conspiracy or participate in all acts in furtherance of it “ how the 1st Circuit will ultimately rule, should there be convictions and/or interlocutory challenges, in this case is unknown. What is clear, however, is that better guidance is needed in these specific types of cases, and clarification ought to be forthcoming.