UPDATED with Huffman statement: Six months after being arrested for her role in the widespread college admissions scandal, a circumspect Felicity Huffman learned her legal fate Friday in a federal courtroom in Boston.
In a hearing that lasted just more than an hour, the American Crime star was sentenced to 14 days behind bars.
Accompanied by her unindicted husband and Shameless star William H. Macy, plus lawyer Martin Murphy and her own security team, this afternoon’s ruling by Judge Indira Talwani means the Oscar nominee will have to self-report to Bureau of Prisons officials on October 25 to begin serving her time in a California facility.
Based on good behavior and other circumstances, Huffman could be out in less than two weeks, though that doesn’t seem to meld with judicial intent here.
With expectations in the air in recent days that she may escape incarceration, Friday’s sentencing comes as a shocker – falling exactly halfway between what the feds wanted and the zero time for which Huffman’s attorneys were aiming. In addition to cell time, Huffman was given a year’s probation, 250 hours of community service and told to pay a fine of $30,000.
“I accept the court’s decision today without reservation,” Huffman said in a statement released minutes after the ruling was rendered. “I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.” (Read Huffman’s full statement below.)
“I am deeply sorry to the students, parents, colleges and universities that have been deeply impacted by my actions,” Huffman told the courtroom after prosecutors and defense lawyers had addressed the matter. The Emmy winner also took her moment before the judge to apologize to Macy and the couple’s two daughters for the bribes she had paid and the consequences that resulted. “I will deserve whatever punishment you give me,” she concluded to Talwani, who rendered her decision relatively soon afterwards.
As they had argued previously in submitted paperwork, prosecutors from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts told the judge today that “the defendant, Felicity Huffman, must go to jail for one month.” Noting that Huffman had considered breaking the law again for her youngest daughter, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen added, “There is simply no excuse for what she did.”
“Imprisonment is needed because this was a considered, deliberate, and purposeful criminal act,” the feds stated, aware of the spotlight the sprawling scheme has attracted since indictments were handed down this spring. Rosen also swatted away any fallout from Huffman’s currently stalled career with a curt “she’ll be fine …memories are short.”
Defense lawyer Murphy countered the government’s desires Friday with a blunt “a sentence of probation is real punishment.”
Having plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud back in May, the high-profile Huffman is the first to be sentenced among the more than 30 parents indicted in the nationwide effort of wealthy families to get their children into top schools using underhanded methods. Unlike Huffman, Full House star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli rejected a plea deal from the U.S. Attorney and are fighting their case stemming from the “Operation Varsity Blues” sting operations with strident not-guilty declarations.
Once looking at 20 years incarceration for having “made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter,” according to the lengthy March 6 indictment, Huffman saw prosecutors last week whittle their recommended jail time to a month. As Huffman’s lawyers sought probation, the feds also tacked on “12 months of supervised release and a fine of $20,000” to their wish list.
Backed by letters of character reference and support from Desperate Housewives co-star Eva Longoria and creator Marc Cherry among others, Huffman threw herself at the court’s mercy in a correspondence of her own last week to Talwani.
“In my desperation to be a good mother I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot,” the When They See Us co-star stated of her entanglement with ex-call center manager William Singer and his phony Key Worldwide Foundation to get her eldest daughter into a top college using faked test scores.
“I honestly didn’t and don’t care about my daughter going to a prestigious college,” Huffman noted in the letter delivered to the court September 6. “I just wanted to give her a shot at being considered for a program where her acting talent would be the deciding factor.”
Prosecutors took exception to Huffman’s correspondence in court today, not finding it contrite enough. “Parenthood does not make you a felon,” said Rosen to Huffman, seated nearby, and Judge Talwani. Announcing her ruling, Talwani also told Huffman that “trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this.”
However, since the flurry of indictments on March 12, advice to the court on sentencing guidelines noted that schools like UCLA, Georgetown, Yale, Stanford and USC should shuck their role in the scandal, even if some bad-apple coaches and administrators have already been arrested.
“What degree of responsibility lies with the schools and testing agencies for failing to properly oversee the admissions and testing processes to ensure that they were fair for all students,” federal probation officials pondered in their recommendations last month. The officials also noted in Huffman’s case there “was no actual or intended loss,” framing the possibility of zero jail time for the actor.
Since her initial arraignment in L.A. in mid-March, Huffman has been free on a $250,000 bail bond with strict travel restrictions. Although a number of Hollywood parents, like Amazon boss Jennifer Salke and her Fox exec spouse Bert Salke, used Singer’s legit tutoring services, Huffman and Macy, who is clearly quoted in wiretaps the feds had on the A-list couple, were well aware of the illegality in which they were engaged.
Which is one of the reasons U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office sought even a little bit of time behind bars for Huffman.
“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 intermingle regardless of affluence, position or fame,” the government asserted in its sentencing memorandum of last week. “Millions of parents send their kids to college every year. But they don’t buy fake SAT scores and joke about it (“Ruh Ro!”) along the way.”
Now that Huffman’s case has come to its conclusion, Hollywood is next at bat with Loughlin and Giannulli.
Alleged to have payed “bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” according to the fed’s 200-page indictment, the couple is heading for a trial. with lawyers for the duo expected in court October 2 for a status conference.
Here is Huffman’s full statement:
I accept the court’s decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions. Period.
I would like to apologize again to my daughter, my husband, my family and the educational community for my actions. And I especially want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices supporting their children.
I have learned a lot over the last six months about my flaws as a person. My goal now is to serve the sentence that the court has given me. I look forward to doing my community service hours and making a positive impact on my community. I also plan to continue making contributions wherever I can well after those service hours are completed.
I can promise you that in the months and years to come that I will try and live a more honest life, serve as a better role model for my daughters and family and continue to contribute my time and energies wherever I am needed.
My hope now is that my family, my friends and my community will forgive me for my actions.