At a Boston courthouse on Friday, American Crime star Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to have her eldest daughter’s SAT scores secretly inflated by a Harvard graduate. Huffman is the first parent to be sentenced in the nationwide college entrance exam cheating scandal brought to light by the FBI investigation nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues. 

In fact, federal prosecutors allege at least 50 wealthy parents paid top dollar to fraudulently boost their children’s entrance exam scores, falsify college application documents and photos, and bribe officials from elite colleges across the U.S. between 2011 and 2019. The parents are accused of committing these crimes to give their children an academic edge over the fierce competition. 

In an impassioned letter to the court last week, the 56-year-old actress explained how she had her oldest daughter, Sophia, work with a consultant to improve her odds of being accepted into a desired acting program. But Sophia, who’s been diagnosed with learning disabilities, was scoring concerningly low on the math portion of her practice SAT. Not wanting math troubles to interfere with her daughter’s future acting prospects, Felicity says she “finally got to the day when I said ‘Yes’ to the illegal cheating scheme.”

“I honestly didn’t and don’t care about my daughter going to a prestigious college,” she wrote. “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. I didn’t want my daughter to be prevented from getting a shot at auditioning and doing what she loves because she can’t do math.”

Huffman’s husband, Shameless actor William H. Macy penned a letter to the judge as well. He pointed out that, ironically, the acting program Sophia was most interested in doesn’t even require SAT scores; that his daughter continues to have nightmares after the FBI agents woke her up with guns drawn; and he praised his wife, saying, “Every good thing in my life is because of Felicity Huffman.” 

Now 19 years old, Sophia’s unnamed dream acting program rescinded its invitation for her to audition for the theater program. She will take a gap year before applying to college the following year.

As for Felicity Huffman, prosecutors argued she acted out of “a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness.” And they hardly saw a punishment of home confinement in a luxurious home in the Hollywood Hills with an infinity pool as appropriate. They also argued that even the highest fines in the lawful guidelines were too low of an amount to be considered punishment to a star who was worth tens of millions of dollars.

Huffman pleaded guilty to the crimes of committing mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. In addition to her 14-day jail sentence, she must also serve a year of supervised release, put in 250 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $30,000. She’s required to report to prison within six weeks.

After the sentencing, Huffman stated, “I accept the court’s decision today without reservation … There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.” She also apologized to those most affected by her crime—the “students who work hard every day to get into college and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.” Felicity also apologized to her two daughters and husband. “I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter, and failed my family,” the actress said. 

Huffman won an Emmy Award in 2005 for her performance in ABC’s Desperate Housewives. The subsequent year, she received an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe Award for her portraying Sabrina “Bree” Osbourne in the independent film Transamerica. Since the scandal, her job offers and auditions have abruptly stopped.

 

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