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Actress Huffman pleads guilty in college admissions scam

Updated May 13, 2019 - 1:46 pm

BOSTON — “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty Monday in the college admissions bribery scheme, the biggest name to do so in a scandal that has exposed the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their children into top universities.

The Emmy-winning actress, 56, could face prison time after she admitted to participating in the nationwide scam, in which authorities say parents bribed coaches, rigged entrance exams or both to game the admissions system.

Huffman pleaded guilty in federal court to paying an admissions consultant $15,000 to have a proctor correct her older daughter’s answers on the SAT. She also considered going through with the plan for her younger daughter before ultimately deciding not to, authorities say.

The consultant, Rick Singer, arranged for the cheating by having students obtain permission for extra time on the exams through diagnoses for things like learning disabilities, and then taking the exams at his testing center, prosecutors say.

In court, Huffman explained her daughter had been seeing a neuropsychologist for years and getting extra time on tests since she was 11 — an apparent attempt to explain that her daughter’s doctor had no part in the scheme.

“I just didn’t want to create the impression that neuropsychologists have any part in this,” a tearful Huffman said before stopping to collect herself.

Sentencing was set for Sept. 13. Because she agreed to plead guilty, prosecutors said they would recommend four months in prison, but the judge could also choose not to put her behind bars at all.

She arrived at court holding the hand of her brother Moore Huffman Jr. and did not say anything to journalists. In court, she wore a gray dress and a sweater and sat flanked by her attorneys while her brother watched from the front row. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, didn’t attend.

Huffman had apologized in a statement last month and said she will accept the consequences. She said she “betrayed” her 18-year-old daughter, who was not aware of her plan.

“This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life. My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty,” Huffman said.

Investigators have said Macy, 69, was with her when admissions consultant Rick Singer explained how he could arrange for the cheating because he “controlled” a test center. Both Huffman and Macy agreed to the plan, authorities say, but Macy has not been charged. Prosecutors have not explained why.

California businessman Devin Sloane also pleaded guilty Monday to paying $250,000 in bribes to get his son into the University of Southern California as a fake water polo recruit. Officials say he bought athletic gear online and worked with a designer to create a bogus photo of his son playing the sport for the application.

Huffman and Sloane are among 14 parents who agreed to plead guilty in the biggest admissions scandal ever prosecuted in the U.S., known as “Operation Varsity Blues.” The scandal involving prestigious schools across the country has also embroiled prominent college coaches.

The parents are accused of paying Singer to bribe coaches in exchange for helping their children get into schools as fake athletic recruits. Singer also paid off entrance exam administrators to allow someone else to take tests for students or fix their answers, authorities say.

Some parents and coaches who have agreed to plead guilty are cooperating with prosecutors against current or future co-defendants, but Huffman is not known to be among them.

Singer has pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy. He began working with authorities last year and secretly recorded his conversations with actress Lori Loughlin, Huffman and other parents in the hopes of getting a lenient sentence.

Some parents have decided to fight the charges, including Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who have pleaded not guilty to paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits even though neither of them is a rower.

Loughlin and Giannulli, who are also charged with money laundering conspiracy, have not publicly commented on the allegations.

Huffman was a star of the popular ABC series “Desperate Housewives,” which won her an Emmy Award in 2005. She was nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender woman in the movie “Transamerica.”

Experts differ on whether Huffman’s swift acceptance of responsibility will leave her with an acting career.

After she agreed to plead guilty, Netflix officials said a film starring her, “Otherhood,” would not be released as planned in April and a new date would be determined. A limited series featuring Huffman on the Central Park Five case is expected to debut this month.

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