- As promised last month, actress Felicity Huffman has now pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
- Huffman admitted to paying $15,000 to have her daughters SAT scores boosted and says her daughter knew nothing of the scheme.
- The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors are recommending a four-month prison term, a $20,000 fine, and 12 months of supervised release.
Huffman Admits Guilt
Actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty in a Boston courtroom on Monday for her involvement in the massive college admissions scandal dubbed Operation Varsity Blues.
The “Desperate Housewives” star pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Huffman had previously promised to enter a guilty plea after admitting she paid admissions consultant William Rick Singer $15,000 to have a proctor correct her oldest daughter’s answers on the SAT. Huffman allegedly considered doing the same for her younger daughter, but later decided against it.
Huffman became emotional in court as she explained to the judge that her daughter knew nothing about the scam to improve her score. Huffman also claimed that her daughter’s accommodation for more time on the test was legitimate and assured the judge that her daughter’s neuropsychologist, who had treated her daughter since she was 8-year-old, was also not involved in the cheating scheme.
“Everything else” that prosecutors accused her of doing, she said, “I did.”
“I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,” she said in a statement last month. “I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community,” she continued.
Experts believe that Huffman is hoping her plea and apology will help her earn a lenient sentence. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. However, prosecutors are recommending a four-month prison sentence. They are also recommending a $20,000 fine and 12 months of supervised release.
Huffman’s sentencing is scheduled to take place on September 13.
Huffman is one of 50 people charged in the bribery scam involving wealthy parents, test proctors, college coaches, and more. At least 20 people, including Huffman, have now pleaded guilty or have announced that they intend to.
Another parent, Los Angeles businessman Devin Sloane, also pleaded guilty on Monday during a joint court hearing, but he is likely facing a longer sentence. According to prosecutors, Sloane paid $250,000 in bribes, disguised charitable donations, to help get his son recruited as a student-athlete on the Waterpolo team and the University of Southern California. His son was never a competitive player.
Sloane even purchased water polo gear on Amazon, including a ball and a cap, and gave it to his son to wear during a photo shoot. He later had photos doctored to make it appear as if the student was in the water during a game.
Guidance counselors became suspicious, so arrangements were then made to have someone at USC tell the director of admissions that the student played in summer water polo tournaments abroad, in places like Greece, Serbia, and Portugal.
Prosecutors are recommending a year in prison and $75,000 in fines for Sloane.
The person making the corrections on Huffman’s daughter’s test has also pleaded guilty.
Meanwhile, others involved in the corruption scandal have chosen to plead not guilty, including the exam proctor who allegedly allowed Huffman’s test score scam to happen.
The parents at the forefront of the scandal, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are also fighting the charges. The parents are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters, 19-year-old Olivia and 20-year-old Bella, admitted to the University of Southern California, as recruits for the crew team, even though neither of them participated in the sport.
After declining to enter a guilty plea, Loughlin and Giannuli were hit with a second count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. They could face up to 40 years in prison—a maximum of 20 years for each of the charges.
See what others are saying (NPR) (Fox News) (New York Times)
Billionaire Pledges to Pay Loan Debt of This Year’s Morehouse College Graduates
- Billionaire investor Robert F. Smith promised to pay off the student loan debt of the 2019 graduates at Morehouse College, an all-male historically black school in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Though the exact amount of the class’ debt is still being calculated, the gift is expected to be around $40 million.
- This is just one of Smith’s major donations in recent years.
A Generous Gift
Billionaire tech investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith said he will pay off the student debt for all graduates in Morehouse College’s class of 2019.
Smith announced the news on Sunday while delivering the commencement address at the all-male historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia.
“On behalf of the eight generations of my family who have been in this country, we’re gonna put a little fuel in your bus,” he said. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”
His announcement shocked the nearly 400 graduates, who reacted with cheers and applause.
One graduating student named Aaron Mitchom told the Associated Press that he had drawn up a spreadsheet to calculate how long it would take him to pay off his $200,000 in student debt. According to his math, it would take him about 25 years.
“I can delete that spreadsheet,” he told the AP after the commencement. “I don’t have to live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I was shocked. My heart dropped. We all cried. In the moment it was like a burden had been taken off.”
Brandon Manor, another graduate, told the New York Times, “Now all of a sudden, I can look at schools I might not have considered, because I am not applying with about $100,000 in undergraduate loans.”
Who is Robert F. Smith?
The 56-year-old who originally hails from Colorado but now lives in Austin went to Cornell for his undergraduate degree and earned a B.S. in chemical engineering. Afterward, Smith earned his MBA from Columbia Business School.
He went on to work for several companies like Kraft General Foods and then Goldman Sachs, advising companies like Apple and Microsoft before founding his own investment firm.
What does this gift mean?
Smith’s pledge stunned administrators, who called it the largest single gift in the school’s history. The donation also comes at a time where student loan debt has soared to roughly $1.5 trillion, according to recent Federal Reserve data.
Morehouse President David A. Thomas called the gesture “a liberation gift,” telling CNN, “When you have to service debt, the choices about what you can go do in the world are constrained.”
“(Smith’s gift) gives them the liberty to follow their dreams, their passions.”
According to Thomas, the total amount of student debt for the class is still being calculated but the Associated Press estimated that the gift is worth about $40 million.
In return, Smith says he expects the graduating class to pay it forward to give future classes the same opportunity one day.
“Let’s make sure every class has the same opportunity going forward, because we are enough to take care of our own community,” he said.
“We are enough to ensure we have all of the opportunities of the American dream, and we will show it to each other through our actions and through our words and through our deeds.”
Other Major Donations
The billionaire tech executive has managed to stay under the radar for much of his career. While this major donation has thrust him into the spotlight, it is far from his first generous gift.
In 2016, he pledged a $20 million gift to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. That same year, he donated $50 million to Cornell University to go towards its chemical and biomolecular engineering school, and to support black and female engineering students.
In 2017, Smith signed The Giving Pledge, a commitment by some of the world’s richest people – including Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet – who have promises to giving most of their wealth to philanthropy. In 2018, he gave $2.5 million to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to focus on research and care for African-American men and veterans with prostate cancer.
Before Sunday’s graduation speech, Smith had already donated $1.5 million to Morehouse for scholarships and a new park.
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