Actress Felicity Huffman and a dozen other wealthy parents pleaded guilty Monday to participating in a bribery scheme that allowed their children to be admitted to elite colleges around the country.
“I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,” Huffman said in a statement.
As part of a plea agreement filed Monday in federal court in Boston, Huffman admitted to one charge of mail fraud. She said she and her husband, actor William H. Macy, paid $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation to admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer in order to boost their daughter’s SAT score.
Mr. Macy has not been charged.
Dozens of parents, coaches, test proctors and school officials have been ensnared in what federal officials say is the largest college admissions bribery scheme prosecuted by the Justice Department. The scheme, which netted more than $25 million, involved wealthy parents paying bribes to coaches to get their children admitted for athletics they did not participate in or to proctors to change their children’s answers on SAT and ACT standardized tests.
The elite schools targeted in the scheme include Harvard University, Yale University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, among others.
Last week, Stanford University expelled a student who had lied about her sailing credentials in her application, which was linked to the scandal.
Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Gianulli, are charged with paying Singer $500,000 in tax-deductible contributions to secure enrollment at the University of Southern California for their daughters as members of the rowing team. They were not among the parents who pleaded guilty Monday.
In her four-paragraph statement issued by a public relations firm, Huffman sounded contrite as she strove to clear her daughter’s name.
“My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her,” said the actress, who starred in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”
Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, noted that sentencing guidelines for Huffman’s crime could land her in prison for up to 20 years. He recommended that her prison time be “at the low end” of guidelines, as well as a $20,000 fine and one year of supervised release.
Mr. Lelling recommended stiffer penalties in other plea deals on Monday. He recommended that beverage tycoon Gregory Abbott and his wife, Marcia Abbott, each receive 12 months in prison; vintner Agustin Francisco Huneeus receive 15 months; and businessman Stephen Semprevivo receive 18 months, as well as additional fines.
The plea agreements are not binding and must be approved by a federal judge.
Previous guilty pleas include Singer to charges of money laundering, fraud and obstruction of justice; former Yale women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy; and former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer to a racketeering charge.
No one has yet been sentenced in the scandal. The federal investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues has generated fresh criticism “haves” and “have nots” in America’s universities, and many have taken to social media to criticize colleges for maintaining entrance standards already stacked against people of average means.
Huffman addressed the criticism in her statement: “I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
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