So how do you view the recent sentencing of Felicity Huffman, the Desperate Housewives actress?
Something to consider… what does the sentence she was given signal to society? Was it appropriate for bribing? Or does the sentence, including the fine, merely represent getting her hand slapped? I believe it signals a bigger issue, and as a result, we will be focusing more scrutiny on college admissions issues, what some parents will do to get their kids into a college of their “parents’ choice” and what is considered fair sentencing.
This may also change the system that allows for cheating and bribery and finally focus on a much-needed change in the higher education admissions system.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced Ms. Huffman to 14 days in prison, a $30,000 fine, supervised release for one year and 250 hours of community service for paying a college admissions broker $15,000 to have someone correct answers on her daughter Sophia’s SAT exam.
Ms. Huffman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and honest services mail fraud; which consisted of her paying Rick Singer, the mastermind of the nationwide college admissions scheme, $15,000 to improve her daughter’s SAT exam to 1420 through cheating. This score was 400 points higher than when her daughter actually took the PSAT.
She is the first of Hollywood celebrity parents to be sentenced in the college admissions scandals. Judge Talwani added, “I don’t think anyone wants to go to prison, … I do think this is the right thing here. I think without this sentence you would be looking at a future with a community around you asking how you got away with this.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen argued that a message must be sent… “the only meaningful and efficient sanction is prison… There is simply no excuse for what Huffman did. If we respect the rule of law we should not treat defendants differently because of wealth and status.”
He told Judge Talwani, “This was a purposeful criminal act. This was not a blunder or mistake. This was intentional, … She showed contempt for the law and should be punished for her actions. Similarly situated defendants should also go to prison for their crime.”
In the operation the federal prosecutors are calling “Operation Varsity Blues” the Justice Department has charged 51 people, including 34 parents, for paying $25 million collectively to Rick Singer through his charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, to either tag their children as fake athletic recruits to get them into college or to carry out the test scam. Twenty-three defendants have pleaded guilty and fifteen parents, three college coaches and two other co-conspirators of Singer are to be sentenced this fall.
The situation has caused an uproar on college campuses, board rooms and celebrity hangouts. As a result, major celebrities have been arrested, fired from their TV shows and sponsorships. And a parent has filed a $500 billion civil lawsuit in California against the defendants who used bribes to get their children into good colleges.
Two Stanford University students have also named eight universities and Rick Singer in a sprawling class-action lawsuit filed in California that could eventually involve hundreds of students.
Celebrity Lori Loughlin is also under a magnifying glass. She and her husband allegedly paid William “Rick” Singer $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits even though neither participated in the sport.
The couple pleaded not guilty to two charges: conspiracy to commit money laundering; and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud.
Another controversy over Ms. Huffman’s sentencing are questions about fairness. Is she and the other mostly white parents in these cases treated more leniently than poor or nonwhite defendants accused of educational fraud?
These are all valid points and maybe the admissions scandals will cause justice to look at the inequities overall.