Actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday for her role in the school admissions fraud scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. She received a light sentence by any standard.
In a hearing that lasted more than an hour, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani (appointed by President Obama) sentenced Huffman to 14 days in prison. She must pay a $30,000 fine, perform 250 hours of community service, and spend a year on probation. She wasn’t taken immediately into custody – she will self-report to Bureau of Prisons officials on October 25. She will serve her time in a California facility.
Based on good behavior, it is possible that Felicity Huffman won’t even serve a full 14 days. Judge Talwani made a point of telling her that she knew if she didn’t sentence Huffman to time behind bars, people would ask “why you got away with this.” Now, though, people ask why her sentence is so light. Federal prosecutors recommended 30 days in prison while her defense lawyer said probation was punishment enough, no prison time needed. The judge took the middle road and went with 14 days.
Huffman knew what she was doing was wrong when she paid $15,000 for her daughter’s test score to be changed in order for her to be accepted for admittance. Many of her friends wrote letters on her behalf to the judge before sentencing, vouching for her good works and personal qualities. Felicity wrote a letter, too, and while she profusely apologized and threw herself on the mercy of the court, essentially, she made the excuse that she acted as she did because she was trying to be a good mother. She wanted to give her daughter, who struggles in school, the best opportunity she could to get into college. She admitted to insecurity as a parent.
Here’s the thing, though. Most mothers (and fathers) feel insecurity as parents because parenting is a learn-as-you-go experience. No one is born with parenting skills, the skills are learned by trial and error. Her attorney argued that “Parenthood does not make you a felon.” The judge, rightfully, wasn’t swayed by that nonsensical statement. She told Huffman, “trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this.” Huffman knew she was doing something wrong because she admitted to the judge in her letter that she took six weeks to make her decision to go through with the scheme.
Federal prosecutors weren’t buying the insecure mother excuse, either. She was able to write a check to get her child into the college of her choice and did so. Prosecutors said Huffman should experience incarceration as a “leveler”.
“For wrongdoing that is predicated on wealth and rationalized by a sense of privilege, incarceration is the only leveler: in prison everyone is treated the same, dressed the same, and intermingle regardless of affluence, position or fame,” the government asserted in its sentencing memorandum of last week. “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.”
Huffman released a statement after the sentencing hearing. She continued as she has been throughout the process – she was contrite, apologetic, and accepting of whatever punishment the judge doled out to her.
I accept the court’s decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.
I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions. And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.
I have learned a lot over the last six months about my flaws as a person. My goal now is to serve the sentence that the court has given me. I look forward to doing my community service hours and making a positive impact on my community. I also plan to continue making contributions wherever I can well after those service hours are completed.
I can promise you that in the months and years to come that I will try and live a more honest life, serve as a better role model for my daughters and family and continue to contribute my time and energies wherever I am needed.
My hope now is that my family, my friends and my community will forgive me for my actions.
An interesting part of the scene Friday was that Felicity’s husband, actor William H. Macy, was by her side. Up until Friday, he’d been absent. He wasn’t indicted as a result of the FBI operation as his wife but I found it odd that he never appeared with her on her court dates. She was accompanied by her brother. Reports coming out of the court hearing are that he teared up when she was sentenced and offered comforting gestures and words to her afterward as she received instructions and signed paperwork.
Huffman’s sentencing must rattle actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli. They have done the opposite of Felicity Huffman and now may face much stronger punishment. While Huffman was contrite and apologetic from the beginning and kept out of the public eye, Aunt Becky and her husband have reacted much differently to their indictment.
Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty. They didn’t agree to take a deal from the prosecution in exchange for pleading guilty. Loughlin went into her first court date in Boston with a smile on her face, waving to fans gathered at the courthouse, and signed autographs as she exited the courthouse. She posed for pictures with her fans, too. Eventually, when the severity of the charges began to sink in, she did tone down her behavior but that first appearance left a mark.
Loughlin and Giannulli are much bigger fish in the Operation Varsity Blues scandal. They paid $500,000 to get their daughters into college – both daughters, unlike Felicity Huffman, who decided not to commit fraud for her second daughter to be accepted. They must be sweating it now that Huffman is going to be behind bars. The case can be made that Loughlin and Giannulli engaged in fraudulent behavior on a much bigger scale. There hasn’t been repentance and their attitude has been, frankly, arrogant.
Loughlin and Giannulli face a higher sentencing guideline due to the higher dollar amount involved. The legal eagles I’ve heard talk about this case say now that Huffman’s fate is known, Loughlin should be advised to take a plea deal instead of insisting on going to trial. She could likely receive a sentence of 2 years in prison but if she proceeds to trial, all bets are off. She faces serious prison time if the judge continues, in the same manner, going forward with the other parents. The term “trial tax” is used. It references a stiffer punishment imposed by a judge when a defendant is found guilty at trial after refusing a plea deal.
Will Aunt Becky actually receive substantial prison time? Will she just get a slap on the wrist as Felicity Huffman did? Wealthy celebrities receive privileges that regular people don’t have. Huffman’s sentence recommendation was greatly reduced from the prison time originally bantered about. The thirty-day recommendation was nothing compared to a possible 20 years some legal pundits spoke about in the beginning. Now we wait and see how it shakes out for Aunt Becky and her husband.