Entertainment

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman jailed in college admissions scandal

The actress was given a 14-day jail term after admitting paying an admissions consultant to have a proctor correct her daughter's SAT exam answers.

Actress Felicity Huffman has been sentenced to 14 days in prison for her role in a sweeping college admissions scandal.

The Desperate Housewives star was sentenced in Boston’s federal court after pleading guilty in May to a single count of conspiracy and fraud.

She was also given a 30,000 dollar (£24,000) fine, 250 hours of community service and a year of supervised release.

Felicity Huffman arrives at court with her husband William H Macy in Boston
Felicity Huffman arrives at court in Boston with her husband William H Macy (Elise Amendola/AP)

She has admitted to paying an admissions consultant 15,000 dollars (£12,000) to have a proctor correct her daughter’s SAT exam answers in 2017.

Prosecutors had recommended a month in prison and a 20,000 dollar (£16,000) fine.

Huffman’s lawyers said she should get a year of probation, 250 hours of community service and a 20,000 dollar fine.

The actress said before sentencing that “I am deeply ashamed of what I have done. I have inflicted more damage than I could ever imagine”.

A total of 51 people have been charged over the scheme, the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department.

In his argument for prison time, assistant US attorney Eric Rosen said on Friday that prosecutors had no reason to doubt the rationale she offered — her fears and insecurities as a parent — for taking part in the scheme.

“But with all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood,” Mr Rosen said. “Parenthood is terrifying, exhausting and stressful, but that’s what every parent goes through. … What parenthood does not do, it does not make you a felon, it does not make you cheat, in fact it makes you want to serve as a positive role model for your children.”

College Admissions-Bribery
Actress Felicity Huffman was jailed for 14 days (Charles Krupa/AP)

Huffman’s lawyer Martin Murphy argued that her crimes were less serious than those of her co-defendants, noting that she paid a low amount and that, unlike others, she did not enlist her daughter in the scheme.

“One of the key things the court should do is to impose a sentence that treats Ms Huffman like other similarly situated defendants, not treat her more harshly because of her wealth and fame, or treat her more favourably because of her wealth and fame,” Mr Murphy said.

The scandal has embroiled elite universities across the country, including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and UCLA. It exposed the lengths to which parents will go to get their children into the “right” schools and reinforced suspicions that the college admissions process is slanted toward the rich.

Prosecutors said parents schemed to manipulate test scores and bribed coaches to get their children into elite schools by having them labelled as recruited athletes for sports they did not even play.

Huffman pleaded guilty in May to a single count of conspiracy and fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Prosecutors requested prison time to send the message that white-collar criminals cannot simply buy their way out of jail.

But her lawyers argued that Huffman was only a “customer” in a broader scheme orchestrated by others. In past cases involving cheating or academic fraud, they said, only the ringleaders went to prison.

The case is seen as an indicator of what is in store for other defendants. Over the next two months, nearly a dozen other parents are scheduled to be sentenced. Fifteen parents have pleaded guilty while 19 are fighting the charges.

Among those contesting the charges are Full House actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake athletes.

Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer is the only other person sentenced so far and received a day in prison. He admitted helping students get into Stanford as recruited athletes in exchange for 270,000 dollars for his sailing programme.

Huffman paid 15,000 dollars to boost her older daughter Sofia’s SAT scores with the help of William “Rick” Singer, an admission consultant at the centre of the scheme. Singer, who has pleaded guilty, allegedly bribed a test proctor to correct the teenager’s answers.

Authorities said Huffman’s daughter got a bump of 400 points from her earlier score on the PSAT, a practice version of the SAT.

The actress has said her daughter was unaware of the arrangement.

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