By Zack Huffman
BOSTON – Former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman fought back tears as she pleaded guilty Monday for taking part in the nationwide college admissions bribery scandal that has ensnared wealthy parents, business executives and coaches.
Huffman, 56, gave her plea alongside co-defendant Devin Sloane in a case that the FBI dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.
Rick Singer, who pleaded guilty in March, operated two cheating scams for wealthy families where he facilitated bribes for help cheating on the SAT or ACT exams, or for bribes to college coaches to designate their children as student-athletes.
Singer operated a third scam that allegedly allowed the wealthy parents to launder their bribes as charitable donations to his own nonprofit.
Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to Singer’s agent to correct her daughter’s SAT scores, allowing her to boost her score by about 400 points, to 1420, according to the original affidavit released when the cheating scandal went public.
Huffman’s husband, the actor William H. Macy, was not charged.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen requested that Huffman receive four months in prison and a $20,000 fine.
The Emmy-winning actress noted, through tears, that her daughter was not aware that she paid a bribe to improve the SAT score.
As part of the cheating scheme, Huffman convinced her daughter’s psychologist to help her get accommodations for the SAT exam, including extra time and a one-on-one examination, which helped facilitate having Singer’s agent correct her test score.
Huffman clarified that the psychologist had no knowledge their recommendation was part of a cheating scam.
“Everything else Mr. Rosen said I did, I did,” she told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in a Boston courtroom Monday.
In the same hearing, Huffman’s co-defendant Sloane, a 53-year-old Los Angeles businessman, pleaded guilty to paying $250,000 to get his son designated as a water polo player for the University of Southern California.
The government is seeking 12 months in prison and a $75,000 fine for Sloane.
Huffman’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 13, while Sloane will receive his sentence on Sept. 10.
Similar charges are pending against “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, and additional charges for tax invasion were brought against all of the parents who pleaded not guilty.
Unlike the entrance-exam scheme, Loughlin and Giannnulli are said to have secured their daughters’ college admissions by having the girls listed as college athletes, thus lowering the academic threshold they would face for entry.
All of the defendants who improperly took tax deductions for the bribe payments have agreed to cooperate with the IRS to pay back taxes, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
In addition to Huffman and Sloane, the parents who pleaded guilty or are expected to in the near future include Gregory Abbott, Marcia Abbott, Jane Buckingham, Gordon Caplan, Robert Flaxman, Agustin Huneeus, Marjorie Klapper, Peter Jan Sartorio, Stephen Semprevivo, Bruce Isackson and Davina Isackson.
Mail-fraud and money-laundering conspiracy charges provide for a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, plus six-figure fines.