BOSTON – Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen Monday recommended a four-month prison term for actress Felicity Huffman for her involvement in the nation’s largest college admissions scandal.
The former “Desperate Housewives” actress admitted to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying Rick Singer, the admissions scheme’s mastermind, $15,000 to have someone correct SAT answers for her oldest daughter.
Huffman stood and raised her right hand in the courtroom, replying “Yes, your honor,” when asked by U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani if she understood the terms of her plea deal. The judge then went over what Huffman’s guilty plea means, reminding her that she is waving her right to a trial by jury and the ability to appeal the judge’s decision. Her guilty plea also prevents her from possessing a firearm.
Rosen, the prosecutor, told the judge the government is recommending four months, the low-end of sentence guidelines, in exchange for Huffman not appealing any prison decision up to 20 years. The judge responded: “There is a trade here. They’ve given up something. I will accept the plea waiver.”
The actress, 56, arrived at federal court Monday about two hours before her scheduled hearing with her brother, Moore Huffman Jr., tightly clasping her hand as she walked inside. She wore a dark coat over a beige sweater and skirt and walked from a car that dropped her off at the front door without taking questions.
Huffman has publicly apologized for her actions, saying last month she is in “deep regret and shame over what I have done” and accepts “full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions.”
“I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community,” she said, apologizing especially to “the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
She said her daughter “knew absolutely nothing” about her actions.
Huffman’s guilty plea, which means she waives her right to a trial and can’t appeal the judge’s sentence, comes as actress Lori Loughlin, the other celebrity indicted by the Justice Department, has pleaded not guilty to the same charges and money laundering.
Loughlin and her husband fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 to Singer for their daughters to be classified as athletic recruits to get them accepted into the University of Southern California. The couple has a hearing June 3.
Also appearing before the same judge at the same time as Huffman is Devin Sloane, a CEO of a water systems company in Los Angeles who has pleaded guilty to charges for paying a $200,000 bribe to Singer to falsely designate his son as a water polo player so he could gain acceptance to USC.
Huffman and Sloane became fourth and fifth parents to plead guilty in the “Varsity Blues” case. An additional nine parents have agreed to plead guilty and have plea hearings in the coming weeks.
Prosecutors say Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, who is not charged in the case, met with Singer at the couple’s Los Angeles home prior to her daughter’s SAT exam in December 2017 to discuss how the scheme operated.
Over the course of months beginning in the summer of 2017, according to prosecutors, Huffman and Singer exchanged emails where they discussed how to double the length of test time allotted to her daughter and change the venue of her test so that it would be taken at a center operated by Igor Dvorskiy, who is accused of being involved in the scheme.
Prosecutors say that Mark Riddell, who has pleaded guilty to secretly taking tests for students, flew from Tampa, Florida, to Los Angeles on Dec. 2, 2017 to proctor Huffman’s daughter’s exam at the West Hollywood Test Center. He flew back the next day.
Huffman’s daughter received a 1420 out of 1600 on the test, approximately 400 points higher than she had earned on her PSAT taken one year earlier without Singer’s assistance.
Two weeks after the SAT, Singer – through his sham nonprofit The Key Worldwide Foundation – paid Dvorskiy $40,000 for administering the SAT to Huffman’s daughter and three other students, according to prosecutors. On December 27, 2017, they say Singer paid Riddell $35,000.
Prosecutors say Huffman and Macy wrote a $15,000 check to Singer’s nonprofit on Feb. 27, 2018. It was followed by a note the next month from a Singer associate thanking them for the donation and falsely saying it would “allow us to move forward with our plans to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.”
Later that year, according to the Justice Department’s complaint, Huffman inquired about arranging the same test cheating scheme for her younger daughter. Although she did not follow through with the plan, prosecutors have pointed to a series of phone conversations between October 2018 and this past February in which Huffman, and in some cases Macy, discuss the prior arrangement with Singer, who by this point was cooperating with the FBI.
On a Nov. 12, 2018, phone call with Singer, Huffman told Singer she wanted to move ahead with carrying out the plan for her younger daughter, but probably only after she first took the exam without cheating, according to transcript that’s included in the complaint.
Huffman: “We’re going to do like we did with (my older daughter).
Singer: “OK. So (Mark Riddell) will take it with her and for her at Igor’s place at [the
West Hollywood Test Center]. So –”
Singer: “Because I’ll need to do the paperwork for that. And you’re OK with that?”
Huffman: “Yeah, totally.”
Huffman spoke to Singer by phone as recently as Feb. 13, 2018 – one month before she and 49 others were charged in the sweeping conspiracy case. In that conversation, she asked Singer whether he thought a dramatic increase in her younger daughter’s score would raise suspicion from her SAT tutor.
Singer told her not to worry, but Huffman ultimately backed out, prosecutors say.