Felicity Huffman Likely to Get Some Jail Time After Pleading Guilty in College Scandal

By Zachary Stieber

Actress Felicity Huffman will likely be sentenced to time in prison after pleading guilty in the nationwide college admissions scandal if a judge listens to recommendations from federal prosecutors.

Huffman, best known for her role in “Desperate Housewives,” said she’d agreed to enter a guilty plea in “Operation Varsity Blues,” a nationwide sting that ended with 50 indictments, including 33 parents.

Huffman and the other parents paid money to William “Rick” Singer, who was running a nonprofit known as The Key Worldwide to provide illegal services for their children, prosecutors said. In Huffman’s case, she paid $15,000 to Singer for an associate of his to change her daughter’s answer on an SAT exam.

Prosecutors said the changes netted a 400 point boost over the girl’s previous score.

William "Rick" Singer
William “Rick” Singer founder of the Edge College & Career Network, departs federal court in Boston after he pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal on March 12, 2019. (Steven Senne/AP Photo)

Huffman discussed paying Singer again to have her younger daughter’s SAT answers changed, but didn’t end up going through with it prior to the indictments being unveiled on March 12.

“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 of her plea.

Prosecutors in the court filing on April 8 recommended prison time for Huffman and the other 12 parents who agreed to plead guilty. Some, like Huffman, face up to 20 years in prison but prosecutors recommended from 12 to 18 months for most of the parents and unspecified “low end” amounts for Huffman and several others.

Prosecutors also said that Huffman should get a $20,000 fine and 12 months of supervised release.

College admission scam 7
Actress Felicity Huffman arrives holding hands with her brother, Moore Huffman Jr., left, at federal court in Boston on April 3, 2019. (Charles Krupa/Photo via AP)

A federal judge will make the final sentencing decisions.

An unnamed law enforcement official told CNN that defendants are facing at least six months in prison and no more than 21 months in prison if convicted, even though sentences could see a judge impose up to 20 years in some cases.

The official said that the exact sentence would depend on a number of factors.

Manny Medrano, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, told the Los Angeles Times that, based on 2019 federal sentencing guidelines, Huffman would likely face from four to 10 months in prison as part of her plea.

The “low end” sentencing recommendation came because Huffman has no criminal history and because the amount of money involved is relatively small, Medrano said.

Actress Felicity Huffman (R) appears in a court sketch at an initial hearing for defendants in a racketeering case involving the allegedly fraudulent admission of children to elite universities, at the U.S. federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, Calif. on March 12, 2019. (Mona Edwards/Reuters)

The plea deals likely came because prosecutors gathered an extensive amount of evidence, including phone calls and emails—some with the cooperation of Singer, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges—making it tough to mount a defense, legal experts added.

“These cases aren’t about defense, they are about mitigation,” Neama Rahmani, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, told the Times. “If a defendant stays in, they are getting bad advice from their lawyers. These are bulletproof cases. As an attorney, it is about finding the best way to reach a plea with the government with a reduced sentence.”

Federal law enforcement sources previously said that any plea deal would come with a recommendation by prosecutors for jail time.

“You can’t have people being treated differently because they have money. That’s how we got to this place. Every defendant will be treated the same,” one unnamed official told TMZ.

Other experts, though, said that plea deals could get cut that don’t ultimately include prison time.

“If the parents are well represented, it is reasonable to expect that possibly none will go to jail,” said former federal prosecutor Jacob Frenkel. “These are not the type of offenses for which judges exercising their discretion would normally put people in jail.”