Reckoning day is nearing for actress Felicity Huffman. Federal prosecutors recommended Friday the actress serve 30 days in jail, receive twelve months of supervised release, and pay a fine of $20,000 for her part in the college admissions fraud scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues.
You may remember that earlier this year Huffman pleaded guilty to charges of committing mail fraud and honest services fraud in connection with a $15,000 payment to an SAT examination proctor. The proctor was paid to correct her daughter Sophia’s answers on the test so that she got a higher score.
By comparison, Huffman’s $15,000 payment to make sure her daughter gained admission to the college of her choice looks like she got a bargain. Other parents caught up by the FBI’s investigation paid much more and went to greater lengths, like submitting phony pictures of their child’s participation as a member of a sports team. Some even gamed affirmative action quotas. Fellow actress Lori Loughlin and her husband paid $500,000 and did the phony photoshoot in order for their daughter to get into USC.
In the filing by federal prosecutors, they wrote that Huffman’s action was “deliberate and manifestly criminal.” They made the case that to sentence the actress to home confinement would not be punishment at all, given her luxury home in the Hollywood Hills.
They recommended that, after spending a month in jail, she should also have a year of supervised release.
“In the context of this case, neither probation nor home confinement (in a large home in the Hollywood Hills with an infinity pool) would constitute meaningful punishment or deter others from committing similar crimes,” the prosecutors wrote.
They added that Huffman’s “efforts weren’t driven by need or desperation, but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity.”
“Millions of parents send their kids to college every year. But they don’t buy fake SAT scores and joke about it (“Ruh Ro!”) along the way,” they added, referring to an email Huffman wrote in 2017.
Huffman’s attorneys countered with a request for no jail time, a one-year term of probation, and 250 hours of community service. She would still pay the $20,000 fine called for in her guilty plea. With all the publicity that Operation Varsity Blues has garnered in the press, though, I find it difficult to believe that such a high profile participant, albeit a lesser player, will walk without any time behind bars. The pressure to punish the wealthy for pursuing special treatment for their kids at the expense of hard-working middle-class students will be strong.
Ms. Huffman wrote a letter to the judge in anticipation of her sentencing. It is a rather humble and apologetic letter describing her remorse and what her actions have done to her family. She also reminded the judge that her daughter suffers from learning disabilities.
Huffman wrote the three-page letter to the judge in an attempt to offer “a broader perspective and insight into who I am as a person and a parent.” In it, she acknowledged that she takes “complete responsibility for my actions and will respectfully accept whatever punishment the court deems appropriate.”
The When They See Us star claimed that she “didn’t go shopping for a college counselor to find out how to rig a SAT score” and “didn’t even know such a scheme existed.” She wrote that she had been seeking advice from doctors and experts because Sophia “was diagnosed with learning disabilities, and she has been retested every three years” since the age of 8.
“As painful as this has been, I am truly grateful for the lessons I have learned and for the opportunity to change and live more honestly,” she concluded her letter. “I am now focusing on repairing my relationship with my daughter, my family and making amends to my community.”
She wrote that she struggled with her decision for six weeks and then the “decision haunted me terribly.” She didn’t do the same for her younger daughter, Georgia. She claims she was just trying to be a good mother. Sadly, her daughter is devastated that her mom didn’t think she could do it on her own.
“In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot,” the Desperate Housewives alum, 56, wrote to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani of Massachusetts on Wednesday, September 4. “I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair. I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter, and failed my family.”
When Sophia learned about her mother’s involvement in the nationwide bribery scam, she “looked at me,” Huffman wrote, “and asked with tears streaming down her face, ‘Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?’”
“I had no adequate answer for her,” the actress admitted. “I could only say, ‘I am sorry. I was frightened and I was stupid.’ In my blind panic, I have done the exact thing I was desperate to avoid. I have compromised my daughter’s future, the wholeness of my family and my own integrity.”
She may not have been “shopping” for a scheme to get her daughter accepted into college but she obviously knew what she was doing – buying her child’s admission – was wrong. Did she know it was also illegal? That part is unclear to me. She certainly never expected to find herself being prosecuted for it.
Huffman has lots of friends willing to write letters to the judge on her behalf and beg for her not to serve jail time. Her husband did the same, too. That is a part of this story that I haven’t figured out – how has her husband, actor William H. Macy – escaped this mess?
Eva Longoria, a co-star in “Desperate Housewives”, penned a letter for her friend. While it is understandable that Huffman’s friends would like to see her avoid jail time, prosecutors could have sought a sentence of up to six months in jail. Thirty days sounds like a slap on the wrist.
Her sentencing is scheduled for September 13