At least 50 people have been charged with participating in an alleged conspiracy that involved cheating on college entrance exams and securing admission to elite colleges by bribing athletic coaches at the schools.

In Boston, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced the charges in what he called the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department.

"We're not talking about donating a building so that a school is more likely to take your son or daughter," Lelling said. "We're talking about deception and fraud. Fake test scores. Fake athletic credentials. Fake photographs. Bribed college officials."

The schools involved include Yale, Stanford, University of Southern California, UCLA, Wake Forest and Georgetown, among others.

Rick Singer, the head of a foundation and for-profit admissions consulting service in Newport Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. He entered his guilty plea in federal court in Boston.

Here's how Lelling said the scheme worked: Between 2011 and 2018, wealthy parents paid Singer more than $25 million. Singer would then use that money to enrich himself — bribe college exam administrators and coaches at NCAA Division I schools.

In return for bribes ranging from $200,000 to $450,000, coaches agreed to pretend that certain applicants were recruited competitive athletes, giving them slots that admissions offices had held specifically for sports teams.

"In many instances, Singer helped parents take staged photographs of their children engaged in particular sports," Lelling said.

Read more: How Prosecutors Say The Admissions Bribery Scheme Worked

Among those named as participating in the scheme was Rudolph "Rudy" Meredith, the former head coach of women's soccer at Yale. Court documents state that in April 2018, Meredith met with the father of an unnamed Yale applicant in a Boston hotel room and agreed to designate his daughter as a soccer recruit, in exchange for $450,000. The father paid Meredith $2,000 as a down payment. FBI agents secretly recorded the meeting. A week later, the father transferred another $4,000 to Meredith's Connecticut account from a Boston bank that was under the control of FBI agents.

None of the schools are under investigation for fraud, but in statement, Yale said the university has been the victim of a crime perpetrated by its former women’s soccer coach and that it's cooperating in the investigation.

UCLA says it has placed its men's soccer coach, Jorge Salcedo, who was also charged, on leave and the allegations against him are deeply disturbing.

Also charged was John Wilson of Hyannis Port and Lynnfield, Mass., the founder and CEO of a private equity and real estate development firm, and Gordon Ernst, former men's and women's tennis coach at Georgetown University. Since August 2018, Ernst has been coach of the women's team at the University of Rhode Island.

Lisa Brown, vice president and general counsel of Georgetown, said in a statement: "Mr. Ernst has not coached our tennis team since December 2017, when he was placed on leave after the Office of Undergraduate Admissions identified irregularities in his recruitment practices and the University initiated an internal investigation. The investigation found that Mr. Ernst had violated University rules concerning admissions, and he separated from the University in 2018. The University was not aware of any alleged criminal activity or acceptance of bribes by Mr. Ernst until it was later contacted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with whom we fully cooperated in its investigation."

College admissions counselors say the real victims in this case are hardworking students who did everything they could to set themselves up for success in the college admissions process.

"There aren't enough spots for everybody and it's hard ... to stomach the idea that a couple of those slots were taken by people who bought their way in," said Elizabeth Heaton, an admissions consultant at College Coach in Watertown, Mass. "To imagine coaches putting kids on that list who were never going to play for them, is just — it's mind-boggling."

Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were also among those charged.

WGBH News' Esteban Bustillos contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the Hyannis Port, Mass. man charged in the case.

This article has been updated.