Felicity Huffman took to her lifestyle blog in 2015 to write about parenting.
“From one angle,” she said,"motherhood can be viewed as one long journey of overcoming obstacles. I salute mothers everywhere who overcome obstacles with grace, courage and tenacity.”
Four years later, Huffman wrote about parenting again — this time in a letter to the judge who on Friday will either spare or send her to prison, in an attempt to explain why she paid $15,000 to fix her daughter’s college entrance exam.
“There was this huge obstacle in the way that needed to be fixed for my daughter’s sake,” she wrote in the letter.
Of the 34 parents charged by federal prosecutors with conspiring with corrupt college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, few have fallen further than Huffman — a celebrated actress, a champion of progressive causes, a mother who used her blog to speak frankly about child-rearing and ethics.
The blog portrayed Huffman as prone to parenting mistakes but willing to own them, a warts-and-all account of what she called “the wilderness of mothering,” but peppered too with sermons on the importance of letting your children make mistakes and the virtues of hard work.
Prosecutors, however, have taken aim at the blog ahead of Huffman’s scheduled sentencing, saying “brazen hypocrisy” factored into their request that she serve a month in prison. Huffman used her blog to put forth “a public persona as a likeable everywoman and trustworthy purveyor of parenting wisdom,” they wrote in a sentencing memo, even as she was arranging to rig her daughter’s SAT.
Huffman pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit fraud and acknowledged paying Singer to fix her daughter’s exam. Her attorneys have asked a judge to give her a year of probation, 250 hours of community service and a fine. Huffman, they say, is remorseful and “deeply ashamed.”
In a three-page letter to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, Huffman said she agreed to rig her daughter’s exams after coming to believe — misguidedly — that the girl’s struggles with math might thwart her acting dreams. Singer, whom Huffman hired for legitimate tutoring, had told the actress, falsely, that her daughter’s SAT scores were too low to receive even the chance to audition at the colleges she hoped to attend, Huffman’s attorneys said.
“In my desperation to be a good mother,” Huffman wrote, “I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot. I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair.”
Huffman’s husband, William H. Macy, also wrote to the judge, describing how the scandal has shaken their family.
“She hurt her daughters,” Macy said. “It was the one thing she swore never to do, and she did it. It’s a great lump of pain she carries with her every night and day.”
Huffman has received no job offers or auditions since her arrest, he said, and it’s unclear “when or how Felicity will resume her acting career.”
In a scandal that has produced spectacular falls from grace, parents who before their arrests positioned themselves as authorities — on parenting, on ethics, on social justice issues — have drawn particular scorn.
There was Jane Buckingham, the Beverly Hills marketing executive who, prosecutors noted, “literally wrote a book” on parenting. The author of “The Modern Girl’s Guide to Motherhood” has admitted she paid $50,000 to rig her son’s ACT exam and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. Prosecutors asked a judge to sentence Buckingham next month to eight months in prison.
There was Bill McGlashan, a financier who co-founded a “social impact” fund with U2’s Bono that promised to make money while supporting ventures that better the world. McGlashan paid $50,000 to fix his son’s ACT exam, prosecutors say, and pursued a plan to pay four times that amount to guarantee his admission to USC as a fake punter. “That’s just totally hilarious,” he told Singer, according to a transcript of the call, which was recorded by the FBI.
McGlashan has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.
And there was Huffman, who wrote in a September 2015 back-to-school blog post that the important takeaways from her own education were “problem solving, making hard work habitual, learning how to be a good friend, making stupid mistakes.”
In her letter to the judge, Huffman attempted to explain how a mother who encouraged others to not just accept but embrace their shortcomings resorted to fraud to boost her daughter’s chances of getting into college.
“I didn’t want my daughter to be prevented from getting a shot at auditioning and doing what she loves because she can’t do math,” she said.
Singer told Huffman, falsely, that her daughter needed an SAT score of 1250 to 1350 “to even be considered for the performing arts programs she hoped to attend,” her attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Singer said that for $15,000, he could “get a proctor in the room” who would make sure Huffman’s daughter “gets the answers she needs to get,” according to notes Huffman took on her laptop. The notes are quoted in her sentencing memo.
Huffman toyed with the idea for six weeks before texting Singer in October 2017.
“Are we doing this on her own or with my help?” Singer asked, according to Huffman’s memo.
“With your help,” she said.
Huffman’s daughter took the SAT at a private school in West Hollywood, where Singer had bribed a proctor to turn a blind eye to the cheating, prosecutors say. Once she finished the test, Singer’s accomplice, Mark Riddell, corrected her answers. The girl knew nothing of the scam, Huffman and prosecutors say.
Singer and Riddell have pleaded guilty to a number of felonies and cooperated with authorities. The proctor, Igor Dvorskiy, has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering.
Huffman said in her letter that she has been beset with insecurities since the day her first child was born.
Huffman said as much in a 2016 blog post, explaining why she started the website four years earlier: “I found mothering my two children frightening, alienating, lonely and relentlessly difficult.
“I found very little companionship or understanding in my experience,” she continued. “All I could think was, ‘I must be doing this wrong, I am the worst mother ever, and I NEED HELP!’ So I created a website where it was safe to share any kind of parenting experience you were having no matter how ugly or unpopular.”
Prosecutors, however, say the blog supplied Huffman with more than an online following and good publicity.
She sold advertising space on the website, they said in their sentencing memo, along with T-shirts, mugs and other trinkets featuring phrases like “Good Enough Mom” and “Mom Knows Best.”
Huffman, they said, “profited from fundamental duplicity.”