SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to rig her daughter’s SAT scores, tearfully apologizing to the teenager for not trusting her to get into college on her own.
“I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong,” Huffman, 56, said as she became the first parent sentenced in a college admissions scandal that ensnared dozens of wealthy and well-connected mothers and fathers.
The scandal exposed the lengths to which parents will go to get their children into the “right” schools and reinforced suspicions that the college admissions process is slanted toward the rich.
In sentencing Huffman, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani noted the outrage the case has generated, adding that it “isn’t because people discovered that it isn’t a true meritocracy out there.” The outrage, she said, was because Huffman took steps “to get one more advantage” in a system “already so distorted by money and privilege.”
Prosecutors had sought a month in prison for Huffman, while her lawyers said she should get probation.
A total of 51 people have been charged in the scheme, the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. Prosecutors said parents schemed to manipulate test scores and bribed coaches to get their children into elite schools by having them labeled as recruited athletes for sports they didn’t even play.
Huffman paid $15,000 to boost her older daughter’s SAT scores with the help of William “Rick” Singer, an admission consultant at the center of the scheme. Singer, who has pleaded guilty, allegedly bribed a test proctor to correct the teenager’s answers. Huffman pleaded guilty in May to a single count of conspiracy and fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors.
The amount Huffman paid is relatively low compared with other bribes alleged in the scheme. Some parents are accused of paying up to $500,000.
Huffman must report for her prison sentence in six weeks. She also must pay a $30,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service.
“I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions,” Huffman said in an emailed statement after the sentencing hearing. “And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.”
In arguing for incarceration, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge that prosecutors had no reason to doubt the rationale Huffman offered — her fears and insecurities as a parent — for taking part in the scheme.
“But with all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood,” Rosen said. “Parenthood is terrifying, exhausting and stressful, but that’s what every parent goes through. … What parenthood does not do, it does not make you a felon, it does not make you cheat, in fact it makes you want to serve as a positive role model for your children.”
Huffman’s attorneys asked that she serve her time at the all-female federal correctional institution in Dublin, California, which is a low-security facility. Ultimately, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons will make the final decision.
“Dublin is almost a camp, it’s not surrounded by razor wire or anything like that. It is a place where minimum security prisoners enjoy the luxury of being minimum security prisoners. They don’t present a high risk of escape,” said Tony Brass, a former federal prosecutor.
The Dublin prison has housed famous inmates, including kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst and “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss.
“I’ve had clients in Dublin,” said Brass. “Dublin is known as a pretty good place to go if you have to serve prison time … Dublin has, I think, better living conditions than other places.”
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX 5’s Betty Yu and the Associated Press contributed to this report