Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence actress Felicity Huffman to a month in jail for her role in a college-admissions bribery scheme.
Huffman pleaded guilty in May to fraud charges, admitting she paid $15,000 to have a test proctor correct her daughter’s answers on an SAT college admission exam in an effort to boost her score. Huffman was one of 34 parents charged in a sweeping case that sparked outrage over the idea that wealthy people were seeking to buy access to elite colleges for their children.
Fifty-one people were charged in an investigation of the scheme, which included cheating on standardized tests and faking student profiles as recruited athletes, hoping to enhance prospects of being accepted at top schools. Dubbed by prosecutors as “Varsity Blues,” the college entrance scandal was orchestrated by an admissions consultant.
In federal court Friday in Boston, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office urged a judge to sentence Huffman to one month of incarceration, 12 months of supervised release and a $20,000 fine.
“Her efforts weren’t driven by need or desperation, but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness, facilitated by wealth and insularity,” prosecutors wrote. “Millions of parents send their kids to college every year. All of them care as much as she does about their children’s fortunes. But they don’t buy fake SAT scores and joke about it.”
They also wrote, “Huffman also pursued this fraud despite the staggering advantages that she, and so her daughter, already enjoyed by virtue of Huffman’s enormous wealth and fame,” and that this “would harm some other student who would be denied admission because Huffman’s daughter was admitted in his or her place, under false pretenses.”
This spring, prosecutors had calculated that sentencing guidelines called for four to 10 months of incarceration for Huffman.
In court documents, Huffman pleaded for leniency, as did her husband, actor William H. Macy. Her attorneys asked for a sentence of probation and community service, citing her remorse and her explanation that she didn’t care about her daughter going to an elite school. Her daughter wanted to be an actress. They said Huffman didn’t want her daughter to be disqualified from consideration because of lackluster math scores. She wanted her daughter to be judged for her acting ability.
Huffman had grown to trust her college-admissions consultant over many months before he suggested the falsified testing, her attorneys argued, and her daughter’s learning disabilities justified extra time on the exam.
“To my utter shame,” Huffman wrote, she agreed to cheat on one daughter’s SAT exam, and considered it for a younger daughter, too. “But the decision haunted me terribly,” she wrote, and she did not agree to pay for faked results for the younger child.
Huffman wrote to the judge that she was not trying to excuse her actions. “I know there is no justification for what I have done,” she wrote.
Huffman said she had broken the law, deceived the education community, “betrayed my daughter, and failed my family.” When her daughter asked, with tears streaming down her face, why she hadn’t believed in her, Huffman wrote, she realized she had no answer — she had compromised her daughter’s future, her family and her own integrity.
An attorney for Huffman referred questions to spokesmen for the actress. The spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Macy said their older daughter had paid the highest price for Huffman’s actions; her heart was set on a school that, he noted, does not require SAT scores. After many auditions, she went for the final selection two days after her mother’s arrest. The school withdrew the invitation to audition.
In his letter — by turn, confessional and deeply personal — Macy describes Huffman’s path to motherhood, forged in determination and, sometimes, fear. “Watching Felicity being a mother is a wonderful thing to see,” the veteran actor writes.
“Felicity worried about raising our girls in Hollywood with working actors for parents, so we decided to keep them as far away from our business as possible,” Macy wrote.
He hails his wife for “an amazing ability to ‘see’ our kids,” saying she appreciates them for who they are.
He also describes the challenges Huffman confronted as a parent. “But motherhood has, from the very beginning, frightened Felicity and she has not carried being a mom easily,” Macy wrote. “She’s struggled to find the balance between what the experts say, and her common sense.”
Huffman is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 13 in federal court in Boston.