BOSTON (AP) — Actress Felicity Huffman returned to court Friday to be sentenced for her role in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal.
The “Desperate Housewives” star held hands with her husband, actor William H. Macy, as her brother followed the couple into federal court in Boston.
She didn’t speak to reporters on her way in for sentencing after pleading guilty to a single count of conspiracy and fraud in May. She will be the first parent to be sentenced among 34 charged in the scheme.
Huffman has admitted to paying $15,000 to boost her older daughter’s SAT scores in 2017 with the help of William “Rick” Singer, an admission consultant at the center of the scheme. Prosecutors say Huffman’s daughter was unaware of the arrangement.
Prosecutors have recommended a month in prison, along with supervised release and a $20,000 fine.
Lesser penalties, including probation, would mean little to someone with “a large home in the Hollywood Hills with an infinity pool,” prosecutors said in a Sept. 6 filing. They added that a large fine would be “little more than a rounding error” for someone worth tens of millions of dollars.
Huffman’s lawyers say she should get a year of probation, 250 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine. They say that she was only a “customer” in the scheme and that, in other cases of academic fraud, only the ringleaders have gone to prison.
The case is seen as an indicator of what’s to come for others charged in the case. Over the next two months, nearly a dozen other parents are scheduled to be sentenced after pleading guilty. A total of 15 parents have pleaded guilty, while 19 are fighting the charges.
Hours before Huffman’s sentencing, a federal judge announced that the size of bribes paid in the case will not necessarily influence the severity of sentences.
It settled a dispute between prosecutors, who said bigger bribes should lead to sharper penalties, and the court’s probation office, which disagreed after concluding that the scheme caused no financial loss.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sided with the probation office but said all factors will be considered in sentencing decisions.
The amount Huffman paid is relatively low compared with other bribes alleged in the scheme. Some parents are accused of paying up to $500,000 to get their children into elite schools by having them labeled as recruited athletes for sports they didn’t even play.
In a Sept. 4 letter asking for leniency, Huffman said she turned to the scheme because her daughter’s low math scores jeopardized her dream of going to college and pursuing a career in acting. She now carries “a deep and abiding shame,” she said.
Prosecutors countered that Huffman knew the scheme was wrong but chose to participate anyway. They said she wasn’t driven by need or desperation, “but by a sense of entitlement, or at least moral cluelessness.”
Macy, her husband, hasn’t been charged.
Among those fighting the charges are actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as fake athletes.
Authorities say it’s the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department, with a total of 51 people charged.
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