Movie star goes to jail for rigging varsity entrance test for daughter

A US Federal judge in Boston has sentenced Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman to 14 days in prison after she pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

“Trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this,” Judge Indira Talwani said on Friday, before handing down the sentence, which included a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and supervised release for one year. Huffman was ordered to report to prison within six weeks.

“I can only say that I am so sorry, Sophia,” Huffman, 56 said minutes earlier, her voice cracking through tears. “I was frightened. I was stupid and I was so wrong.”

After the judge left, Huffman’s husband, William H.Macy got up from a front row seat in a dark gray suit and rubbed Huffman’s shoulders and kissed the top of her head as she continued to cry. She must report to prison within six weeks.

Huffman admitted to paying a Harvard graduate $15,000 to correct Sophia’s answers on the SAT, securing her a 400-point boost on the college-entrance exam. Prosecutors had asked that Huffman serve one month in prison, plus fines and community service.

Talwani said the sentence was based on the fact that the testing services involved in the SAT score-rigging suffered no “measurable loss” or “pecuniary harm,” Huffman had no previous criminal history, and that she accepted responsibility and admitted guilt.

“This is a starting point for me, but it’s a starting point I’m expected to get correct,” Talwani said.

Prominent college coaches, business executives, and Hollywood stars such as Huffman and Full House actress Lori Loughlin were arrested in March over their alleged plans to pay their children’s way into schools like Yale, Stanford, and the University of Southern California. FBI agents surrounded Huffman’s Los Angeles home, with guns drawn, and arrested the star in the nationwide bust that snared more than 50 people.

Huffman is the first of 34 parents to be sentenced in the scheme. The dozens of parents charged in the case paid up to $500,000 to get their children into elite schools, according to authorities, in some cases by labelling them as recruited athletes for sports they had never even played. Fifteen parents have pleaded guilty, and another 19 are fighting the charges, according to the Associated Press.

Huffman, the most famous person charged, is best-known for her role on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, for which she won an Emmy Award in 2005. The following year, Huffman was nominated for an Academy Award and won a Golden Globe for her role in the film Transamerica. She appeared in two Netflix specials this year, including Ava DuVernay’s critically praised series about the 1989 Central Park jogger case, When They See Us.

The illicit payment, which Huffman admitted she also considered for her younger daughter Georgia, was at the time described as a charitable contribution to Rick Singer, now known as the ringleader of the sprawling college admissions scheme. Singer, a private college-admissions consultant, convinced many parents to take advantage of what he called a “side door” into elite colleges, by paying for rigged SAT scores or donating to the schools themselves. He has pleaded guilty to racketeering, fraud, money laundering, and obstruction.

Last week, Huffman wrote in a letter to the court that she initially hired Singer, and that when Sophia’s math scores on the practice SATs were concerningly low, he suggested hiring a proctor to alter her SAT results. Huffman said she was “shocked” by the proposed scheme. But after six weeks of contemplating it, Huffman said she “honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting.”

U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen, the top federal prosecutor on the case, responded in court Friday unsparingly.

“With all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood. There’s no instruction manual,” he said.

Mark Riddell, the 36-year-old Harvard graduate who corrected the SAT for Sophia and dozens of other students, has pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Huffman’s relationship with her teenage daughters “exploded” after her arrest, Macy wrote in a letter to the court last week.


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