Wealthy parents busted for their role in the nation's largest college admissions scandal in US history must go to prison - even if it's only for a few months, according to the Justice Department. The agency rejected proposals for 'alternative punishments' filed a week before the first sentencing.
Prosecutors asked US District Judge Indira Talwani to throw Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman behind bars for one month and order her to pay a $20,000 fine for hiring the scam's ringleader to boost the SAT score of her daughter, according to Bloomberg. Huffman will stand in front of the judge on Friday.
Home confinement for the parents “would be a penological joke conjuring images of defendants padding around impressive homes,” and community service is “too easily co-opted for its ‘PR’ value,” according to the sentencing recommendations from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts.
“For wrongdoing that is predicated on wealth and rationalized by a sense of privilege, incarceration is the only leveler: in prison everyone is treated the same, dressed the same, and intermingled regardless of affluence, position or fame,” prosecutors told the court in the memo. -Bloomberg
According to former New York federal prosecutor Brad Simon, federal prosecutors "got what they want," adding "They got an early guilty plea from a high-profile celebrity, and now they’re going to claim a big victory if she gets a sentence of one month in jail or less." Prosecutors said Huffman's conduct was "deliberate and manifestly criminal" when she paid corrupt college counselor William "Rick" Singer to help her daughter.
Huffman's defense attorneys stated in a filing that she is "deeply remorseful" and deserves nothing more than probation and 250 hours of community service.
Her husband, actor William H. Macy, said in a six-page letter to Talwani: "She hurt her daughters. It was the one thing she swore never to do, and she did it," adding "It’s a great lump of pain that she carries with her night and day. It’s a pain I don’t think she will ever escape."
"When one of her daughters needs to scream at her, she takes it in and makes no excuses. She only loves them back," he added, closing by saying "Every good thing in my life is because of Felicity Huffman."
In total, 34 parents were charged in the scandal, which saw parents paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their kids into elite schools, including Stanford and Yale. According to the sentencing memo, 11 of the 15 who have pleaded guilty to paying Singer in the fraud have received recommendations. While the charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the longest any of the parents wioll serve is 15 months, according to the report. Parents who acknowledge their crime or have a clean record will serve significantly less time.
19 parents who chose not to accept plea deals were indicted on money-laundering charges and have chosen to fight in court - with some of their lawyers arguing that the US Government's case is weak. Others have argued that they wrote checks to Singer's charitable foundation in good faith.
Singer, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to racketeering and is cooperating with prosecutors.
As the U.S. has laid out the scheme, the Newport Beach, California, college admissions strategist took thousands of dollars from affluent clients to fix their children’s entrance exam scores. Upping the ante, the government says, he funneled through a charity he’d set up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for college athletic coaches to put the kids on recruiting rosters, assuring them of places in elite schools across the country, including the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. None of the colleges or students have been charged.
Some of the proposed punishments in the prosecutors’ memo are less severe than the plea agreements called for, while others are the same. The longest prison sentence the government is seeking for the 11 parents is 15 months, for Agustin Huneeus, who spent $300,000 on the racket, and Stephen Semprevivo, who spent $400,000, according to prosecutors. Their plea deals called for 21 to 27 months each. -Bloomberg
While prosecutors have insisted that the parents serve time in prison, the Probation and Pretrial Services office has advised against increasing sentences based on alleged financial harm or the size of the bribes. Judge Talwani will hold a public hearing on Tuesday to discuss.