Felicity Huffman faces months behind bars after she pleaded guilty to fraud in the U.S. college admissions scandal for paying $15,000 to cheat on her eldest daughter’s entrance exam.
Huffman wept as she discussed her daughter with U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in Boston on Monday. Devin Sloane, a Los Angeles-based water-services executive, also pleaded guilty, the fifth parent to enter a guilty plea in the biggest college admissions scam the U.S. has ever prosecuted.
Like all 14 parents who have agreed to plead guilty, Huffman and Sloane are charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud. The charge carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison, though federal sentencing guidelines can bring that number down significantly for parents who acknowledge their crime, have a clean record and meet other criteria.
Huffman, who became famous starring in the eight-season ABC series “Desperate Housewives,” and Sloane make an odd pair of criminal bookends.
There is the TV star, who with her A-list actor husband, William H. Macy of the Showtime series “Shameless,” allegedly paid ringleader William “Rick” Singer one of the smallest sums in the $25 million admissions-cheating ring.
Then there is the founder of the drinking- and waste-water company AquaTecture LLC, accused of paying Singer $250,000 to get his son into the University of Southern California as an international water polo player, when his school didn’t even have a team.
The evidence against Sloane includes what may be one of the most remarkable of the email conversations Singer had with clients and secretly recorded telephone calls he made at the behest of the FBI before agreeing to plead guilty in return for leniency.
When a guidance counselor at the high school Sloane’s son attended asked how the boy had been accepted as a water polo player, Sloane grew indignant at the question, according to an April 2018 email he sent Singer.
“The more I think about this, it is outrageous!” he wrote Singer. “They have no business or legal right considering all the students privacy issues to be calling and challenging/question [my son’s] application.”
Huffman arrived at court without Macy, who isn’t accused of wrongdoing — although prosecutors said in a criminal complaint that the couple participated in the scheme together, making the payment in the guise of a donation “to provide educational and self-enrichment programs to disadvantaged youth.”
In a plea deal worked out just weeks after she was charged in March, prosecutors said they’re recommending Huffman serve four to ten months in prison. Her lawyers said they’ll argue she should serve no more than six months, if any time at all, since her payments didn’t exceed $15,000. Under Sloane’s plea deal, the government agreed to recommend 12 months.
Huffman admitted she worked with Singer from the summer of 2017 until early 2018. The plan was to have a surrogate, Mark Riddell, correct her daughter’s answers.
The result was a 1420 out of 1600 on the SAT, a very strong score and an improvement of about 400 points over the preliminary SAT she took on her own a year earlier.
Around the same time, Sloane made payments to Singer and Donna Heinel, USC’s former senior associate athletic director, who has pleaded not guilty in the case.
Sloane hired a graphic designer and bought gear on Amazon.com to stage photos for his son’s USC application as a recruited athlete, prosecutors said. Laura Janke, a former USC assistant women’s soccer coach, who has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the government, helped create a phony sports profile for the applicant, they said.
The biography for Sloane’s son boasted he spent summers playing for the “Italian Junior National Team” and played in tournaments in Greece, Serbia and Portugal.
“He is small but he has a long torso but strong legs plus he is fast which helps him win the draws to start play after goals are scored,” Heinel wrote in an endorsement of Sloane’s son, according to court documents. In exchange, Sloane sent Heinel a $50,000 check to USC Women’s Athletics, which he said the family donated in honor of his late mother, prosecutors say.
“My mom was an Olympic athlete and she just passed away last year, and we as a family decided that we wanted to support women’s sports,” Sloane said he told USC officials when asked about the donation, according to a transcript.