BOSTON (CBS/AP) — Actress Felicity Huffman has agreed to plead guilty in the sweeping college admissions cheating scam that has ensnared wealthy parents and athletic coaches at some of the nation’s most selective universities, federal authorities said Monday.
Prosecutors are recommending four-to-10 months in prison, a $20,000 financial penalty, and 12 months of supervised release. Huffman’s attorneys are expected to argue for zero-to-six months in prison.
The “Desperate Housewives” star and 12 other prominent parents will admit to charges in the scheme, which authorities say involved rigging standardized test scores and bribing coaches at such prestigious schools as Yale and Georgetown.
Huffman was accused of paying a consultant, Rick Singer, $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation to boost her daughter’s SAT score. Authorities say the 56-year-old actress also discussed going through with the same plan for her younger daughter, but she ultimately decided not to.
Soon after the news came that she’d be pleading guilty, an “ashamed” Huffman released the following statement:
“I am pleading guilty to the charge brought against me by the United States Attorney’s Office.
I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept 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. I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize 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.
My daughter knew absolutely nothing about my actions, and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her. 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.”
Other parents charged in the scheme include prominent figures in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields. It’s the biggest college admissions scandal ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department, embroiling elite universities across the country and laying bare the lengths to which status-seeking parents will go to secure their children a coveted spot.
Singer met with Huffman and her husband, 69-year-old actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change their daughter’s answers, authorities say. Singer told investigators Huffman and her husband agreed to the plan.
Macy was not charged; authorities have not said why.
Huffman will plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to court documents.
Michael Center, the former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, has also agreed to plead guilty in the scheme, prosecutors said Monday. Center was accused of accepting nearly $100,000 to help a non-tennis playing applicant get admitted as a recruit.
California real estate developer Bruce Isackson and his wife, Davina Isackson, who are pleading guilty to participating in both the athletic recruitment and exam rigging schemes, are cooperating with prosecutors for a chance at a lighter sentence.
“We have worked cooperatively with the prosecutors and will continue to do so as we take full responsibility for our bad judgment,” they said in a statement.
Fellow actress Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House,” and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli are charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though neither participated in the sport.
Loughlin, who appeared in federal court in Boston last week with Huffman, was not among those who’ve agreed to plead guilty and haven’t publicly addressed the allegations.
Defense attorney Phil Tracy said it is possible Huffman will avoid jail time based on her early plea and good behavior, unlike Loughlin.
“She came into court humbly, she said down humbly. Juxtapose that to Lori Loughlin’s behavior which was signing autographs, taking selfies, roaming around Boston the night before. I thought that was horrific and if I was her lawyer, I never would have had her taking that kind of red carpet approach,” Tracy said.
He added, “That’s exactly what you need to say, to the public, to the court, to the prosecutors: I’m sorry, I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar. You know, caught red-handed.”
Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy on March 12, the same day the allegations against the parents and coaches were made public in the so-called Operations Varsity Blues investigation. Singer secretly recorded his conversations with the parents, helping to build the case against them, after agreeing to work with investigators in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence.
Several coaches have also been charged, including longtime tennis coach Gordon Ernst who’s accused of getting $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 applicants as recruits to Georgetown. Ernst, who was also the personal tennis coach for former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, and a number of other coaches have pleaded not guilty.
Former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to help students get admitted and has been cooperating with authorities. Stanford’s former sailing coach John Vandemoer also pleaded guilty to accepting $270,000 in contributions to the program for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission.
Stanford University expelled a student who lied about her sailing credentials in her application, which was linked to the scandal. The university quietly announced it had rescinded the student’s admission in a short statement posted on its website April 2 after determining “some of the material in the student’s application is false.”
University officials previously said the student was admitted without the recommendation of Vandemoer.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)