Written by Kate Taylor and Julie Bosman (Kate Taylor reported from Boston and Julie Bosman from Chicago)
Actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to a felony Monday, acknowledging that she paid $15,000 to arrange for cheating on her daughter’s SAT test.
Huffman, one of the best known faces among the 50 celebrities, business executives, sports coaches and others who have been charged in the nation’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Since charges were announced in the admissions scandal in March, Huffman has kept a low profile, announcing that she intended to plead guilty and issuing an emotional apology to her family, her friends and her daughter, whom Huffman said had known nothing of the cheating plans. Prosecutors say that a proctor corrected the girl’s answers after she left the test facility.
“This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life,” Huffman said in her written apology.
It was uncertain what penalty Huffman would face. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, prosecutors have said that they would recommend four months behind bars for Huffman. They also have said that they would recommend a fine of $20,000 and 12 months of supervised release.
Federal sentencing guidelines are advisory, and judges may impose sentences that are heavier or lighter than the advised range. The plea agreement also notes that Huffman “reserves the right to argue” that her crime actually corresponds to a lower guideline — of zero to six months of incarceration.
Also uncertain was why prosecutors chose not to charge Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, despite references in a criminal complaint that suggest that Macy was not only aware of the plans, but also a participant in at least some of them.
According to the prosecutors’ complaint, in which Macy was identified only as “Spouse,” Macy had contact with William Singer, the college counselor at the center of the scandal, who was hired by hundreds of parents to help their children gain admission to elite colleges. Singer, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other crimes, bribed test administrators to allow cheating on college entrance tests and bribed college athletic coaches to deem his clients’ children to be recruits for sports they did not actually play, prosecutors say.
Macy and Huffman paid $15,000 to a fraudulent charity run by Singer, who helped arrange for cheating on their older daughter’s SAT test, prosecutors said in the complaint. In a phone conversation recorded by investigators, Macy was on the line along with Huffman and Singer when plans — in the end, never carried out — were discussed for falsifying the SAT scores of their younger daughter as well.
“Are we all OK with the financial side and the actual operational side of it?” Singer, the college consultant, asked Macy and Huffman in that phone call.
“Cool,” Macy responded.
A representative for the couple did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts declined to comment on why Macy had not been charged, saying the investigation was continuing.
Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor and a professor at New York Law School, said it was difficult to tell exactly why prosecutors would have chosen to charge only Huffman.
“The bottom line on Macy was that he seemed to have been less involved in the conduct,” she said. “There is no doubt that the conduct could have been charged, but prosecutors use their discretion all the time, and decide not to charge somebody because they consider it either unfair or not worth the resources.”
Not being charged does not absolve Macy, Roiphe added.
“By not indicting people, the prosecutor is not sending the message, ‘What we think you did is OK.’ ”
Singer told law enforcement agents that he met with Huffman and Macy at their home in Los Angeles and “explained, in substance, how the college entrance exam scheme worked,” the complaint said. Singer said he told Huffman and Macy that he “controlled” a testing center, and “could arrange for a third party to purport to proctor their daughter’s SAT and secretly correct her answers afterwards,” the complaint said, adding that Singer told investigators that Huffman and Macy agreed to the plan.
Bradley D. Simon, a former assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted white-collar criminal cases, said he found it puzzling that prosecutors opted not to charge Macy, given the claims outlined in the complaint.
“Prosecutors have discretion as to who they charge,” Simon said. “It may be that he cooperated with federal agents and provided important information as to the involvement of others, although most likely not his wife. He also could get charged in the future.”
Macy does not appear to have sustained damage to his career. He is currently appearing in “Shameless,” a series on Showtime. It was renewed in January for a 10th season, with him returning, but that season has not yet gone into production, and no release date has been set.
Macy’s movie career had already gone a little cold: His last role of note was in “Room” in 2015, and his most recent film credit was in 2017 in “Krystal,” which he also directed. It took in only $37,516 in theaters.
Huffman, who has kept a low profile since she was charged in the admissions scandal, has seen her career affected. Netflix said it would delay plans to release “Otherhood,” a comedy about motherhood starring Huffman. Huffman also deleted her parenting blog, “What the Flicka,” where she had publicly shared motherly angst.