By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
Actress Felicity Huffman was released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif. Friday after serving 11 days of her 14-day sentence her role in the college-admissions scandal.
The actress will now serve 250 hours of community service and is subject to a year of supervised release. She was fined $30,000 for her role in “Operation Varsity Blues,” a multi-million dollar scheme where wealthy parents paid money to have their children cheat the system in order to gain admission to some of the country’s most elite schools.
Before her sentence, she wrote an impassioned 1,400-word letter to the judge overseeing her case before her sentence. The letter was designed to provide some context to her decision and, presumably, invoke some compassion in the judge who was due to sentence her. The letter did not save her from jail time. It did, however, leave one key point out.
Read her full letter here.
Huffman’s social-media updates would have given a valuable clue the omission in her plea to the judge, but she deleted both her Instagram (NAS:FB) and Twitter (NYS:TWTR) accounts. Given that Huffman received a custodial sentence, Massachusetts Federal Judge Indira Talwani may have been less interested in that public role in talking about helping others.
In what some legal experts consider as a bid for a lighter sentence, Huffman wrote a letter to Judge Talwani. The 56-year-old mother of two made many heartfelt admissions, writing about her daughter’s learning difficulties and acknowledging how her fears of not being a good enough mother may have driven her to act recklessly and, ultimately, led her to break the law.
The ‘Desperate Housewives’ and Academy Award-nominated actress, paid $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation for a stranger to sit a college entrance exam for her daughter.
“My own fears and lack of confidence, combined with a daughter who has learning disabilities often made me insecure and feel highly anxious from the beginning,” she wrote. Huffman said her daughter went to a “very under-funded” public high school for the performing arts. “I find Motherhood bewildering,” she wrote.
“But first let me say, I am concerned that in giving you context it will seem like I am offering you a justification,” she added. “Please, let me be very clear; I know there is no justification for what I have done. Yes, there is a bigger picture, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because I could have said ‘No’ to cheating on the SAT scores.”
The college-admissions scandal revealed the dark underbelly of how wealthy families surreptitiously snag a place for their kids in Ivy League colleges. The accused parents allegedly broke the law, but the scandal also exposed the class divide between the wealthy and the millions of Americans who work hard to get a place in college and/or struggle to help their children afford it.
Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, described the parents involved in the case as “a catalogue of wealth and privilege.” Parents had allegedly paid between $15,000 and $75,000 per test to a college counselor, William “Rick” Singer, to facilitate someone taking a standardized test on their child’s behalf.
Wealthy parents paid Singer $25 million from 2011 to 2019 to bribe coaches and administrators, prosecutors said. Huffman, the “Desperate Housewives” (NYS:DIS) star, paid $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation for a stranger to sit for a college entrance exam for her daughter. She pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Nowhere did Huffman talk about the young man or woman who would have been deprived of a place in a college due to her employing a stranger to take her daughter Sophia’s SAT.
If her letter didn’t offer justification, it leaned toward obfuscation. “I honestly didn’t and don’t care about my daughter going to a prestigious college. I just wanted to give her a shot at being considered for a program where her acting talent would be the deciding factor. This sounds hollow now, but, in my mind, I knew that her success or failure in theater or film wouldn’t depend on her math skills.”
Of course, cheating on math because she wouldn’t need math later on is not the point. But Huffman’s letter had one salient omission: Nowhere did she talk about the young man or woman who would have been deprived of a place in a college due to her having employed a stranger to take her daughter Sophia’s SAT test. (Huffman said Sophia did not have any knowledge of the cheating.)
Before the college-admissions scandal, Huffman often wrote about the need to empower young women and girls, and posted a photograph of touring college campuses with her daughter Sophia. Her Twitter feed received widespread online mockery. In one frequently cited tweet from Aug. 25, 2016, Huffman wrote, “What are your best ‘hacks’ for the back-to-school season?”
Others did what Huffman failed to do, pointing out the real cost of wealthy parents who cheat to get their kids a place at an elite college. John Owen Lowe, son of actor Rob Lowe, posted a photo of his Stanford University college graduation on Twitter and wrote: “Happy for everyone out there who earned their accomplishments ... and really sad for those who were never allowed the opportunity.”
He updated his post to acknowledge that wealthy Americans have advantages that millions of others hoping for their dream school don’t. “And let me say: I’m incredibly grateful that I had the privilege and opportunity to have a tutor and to afford practice test programs. A lot of kids don’t. And to think of them losing their chance at their dream school to someone undeserving is really, really gross.”