College admissions scandal: Prosecutors recommend one-month sentence for Felicity Huffman
Prosecutors want actress Felicity Huffman to receive a one-month prison sentence when she appears before a judge next Friday, the first parent to be sentenced in the college admissions scandal that exploded in March with the arrests of Huffman and nearly three-dozen other parents.
Huffman pleaded guilty to a fraud conspiracy charge in May, admitting she conspired with college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to fix her daughter’s entrance exams.
But since Huffman tearfully admitted her guilt and issued a written mea culpa, she has brought up “quibbles” with prosecutors, they said in a court filing Friday, in an attempt to “imply that [she] is somehow less guilty — that she participated in fraud only reluctantly, without fully understanding it.”
“That is false,” prosecutors wrote.
Huffman’s attorneys referred questions about the allegation to a public relations firm, which didn’t respond.
In a filing of their own, Huffman’s attorneys on Friday requested a year of probation, a $20,000 fine and 250 hours of community service, saying she is remorseful and “deeply ashamed.”
Federal prosecutors accused top CEOs, two Hollywood actresses and a legendary fashion designer of taking part in an audacious scheme to get their children into elite universities through fraud, bribes and lies.
Included in the filing is a letter from Huffman herself, addressed to the judge who will decide next week whether to spare or send her to prison.
Huffman told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani she was “shocked” to hear Singer propose rigging her daughter’s SAT. But before long, she said, she felt a mounting sense of panic that her daughter’s SAT scores were too low and posed a “huge obstacle” to her future.
“As warped as this sounds now,” she said, “I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting.”
She said she toyed with the idea for six weeks before agreeing to pay Singer $15,000 to fix her daughter’s score.
In December 2017, Mark Riddell, Singer’s Harvard-educated accomplice, changed the girl’s answers after she took the test at a West Hollywood school where Singer had allegedly bribed a proctor to permit the cheating.
As actress Felicity Huffman awaits sentencing on a charge of fraud conspiracy, her colleagues on Netflix’s “Otherhood” movie speak out on her behalf.
Huffman and prosecutors say her daughter had no knowledge of the scheme.
Both Singer and Riddell have pleaded guilty to an array of felonies and are awaiting sentencing. The proctor, Igor Dvorskiy, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.
While Huffman told the judge there is “no justification for what I have done,” she said she wanted to lay out in the letter her reasoning, misguided as it was, to try to explain how a wealthy mother who could offer her children every legitimate advantage decided to break the law.
From the day her first child was born, Huffman said she has been “bewildered” by motherhood: “I so desperately wanted to do it right and was so deathly afraid of doing it wrong.”
Panicked, insecure and worried her daughter’s low math scores would hinder her acting dreams, Huffman said she managed to convince herself that fixing her daughter’s test scores amounted to “giving her a fair shot.”
The fate of John Vandemoer, the former sailing coach at Stanford University who participated in the college admissions scandal, will take one of several very different turns Wednesday when he is sentenced in a Boston courtroom.
“I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair,” she said. “I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter and failed my family.”
Sometime after her mother was led away in handcuffs the morning of March 12, Huffman’s daughter asked her, tearfully, “Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?” Huffman wrote in her letter.
“I had no adequate answer for her,” Huffman wrote. “I could only say, ‘I’m sorry. I was frightened and I was stupid.’”
In arguing why she should be spared prison, Huffman’s attorneys said the actress didn’t seek out Singer but was referred to him by a friend; that her daughter has a legitimate learning disability, unlike the children of some of Singer’s clients who received fraudulent diagnoses; that Singer provided legitimate counseling to her daughter for nearly a year before proposing the scheme; that she didn’t immediately agree to go along with it; and that she decided against repeating the scheme for her younger daughter.
Huffman’s attorneys conceded she “seriously considered” fixing her younger daughter’s score but ultimately decided against it, telling Singer in a call recorded by the FBI, “It just doesn’t feel right.”
Some figures in the college admissions scandal have vowed to fight federal charges, saying they did nothing wrong.
Prosecutors excoriated the account offered by Huffman and her attorneys. Since her guilty plea, they said, Huffman and her attorneys have maintained she didn’t know Singer was paying third parties — Riddell, his accomplice, and Dvorskiy, the test proctor.
“Huffman is a sophisticated businessperson,” prosecutors said. “She was clearly aware that Riddell and Dvorskiy weren’t helping her cheat on the SAT for free.”
Calling it “deliberate and manifestly criminal,” prosecutors said Huffman’s agreement with Singer wasn’t reached hurriedly, on impulse, in the heat of the college application season.
The scheme “unfolded gradually, over months, requiring her to repeatedly recommit to deception and fraud,” they said.
“Her efforts weren’t driven by need or desperation,” they added, “but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity.”
Felicity Huffman formally pleaded guilty Monday to her role in the college admissions scandal.
A sentence of home confinement, prosecutors noted, would be served in Huffman’s large Hollywood Hills home, which has an infinity pool. They dismissed a fine of $20,000 as “a rounding error” for Huffman, whose wealth they estimated in the tens of millions.
Huffman agrees she should be punished, her attorneys said. But they argue probation, a $20,000 fine and 250 hours of community service are enough.
If approved, Huffman would work at the Teen Project and the Community Coalition, two Los Angeles-area agencies that work with young people in poor communities, her attorneys said. Huffman said she would tutor young people, help them fill out financial aid applications and answer the phones at the front desk.
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