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Felicity Huffman and 13 others plead guilty in college admissions scandal

"Operation Varsity Blues” has ensnared 50 people.

by Emma Ockerman
Apr 8 2019, 7:46pm

Hollywood actress Felicity Huffman and 13 other people have agreed to plead guilty to allegations that they used bribes and other cheats to get undeserving kids accepted into elite colleges, according to court documents.

It’s unclear what their agreement with the federal prosecutors at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts will entail. Thirteen parents and one athletic coach agreed to plead guilty to various charges including conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, according to the documents, filed in federal court on Monday.

The fraud charge can carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of at least $250,000, prosecutors said in a statement.

The parents have to make a formal plea before April 30, according to court documents. Prosecutors recommended Monday that Huffman serve less than the maximum sentence, a financial penalty of $20,000, and a year of supervised release.

“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,” Huffman said in a statement to the Boston Globe.

Last month’s college admissions, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues” by federal investigators, ensnared 50 people who engaged in a scheme to doctor college applications and sneak unqualified students into elite universities like Yale and USC. In all, parents spent $25 million in bribes to fake their kids’ athletic abilities and Photoshop photos of them playing sports, convince coaches to designate them as recruits, and get stand-ins to take their college admission tests.

The person who orchestrated the scheme, Rick Singer, agreed to plead guilty earlier this month, along with Rudy Meredith, Yale's women’s soccer coach, and Mark Riddell, a prep school administrator who faked test scores and accepted bribes to help the students. Singer marketed himself as a legitimate college consultant, and dozens of parents involved in the case paid handsomely for his help.

Huffman, for example, made a fake charitable contribution of $15,000 so Singer could hire someone to change her daughter’s test answers on the SAT. She later decided against making the same decision for her other daughter, according to court documents.

Another actress, Lori Loughlin — who has yet to plead in the case — allegedly paid half a million dollars with her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, to get their two daughters recruited to the University of Southern California’s rowing program, although neither girl had ever rowed crew. Loughlin allegedly paid through the same fake charity.

The one college official who pleaded guilty Monday was the former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, Michael Center. He accepted $60,000 in cash bribes from Singer — and $40,000 directed to his school’s tennis program — to get one of Singer’s clients into the university as a tennis recruit.

Cover image: In this April 3, 2019 file photo, actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. In a court filing on Monday, April 8, 2019, Huffman agreed to plead guilty in the cheating scam. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)