Actress Felicity Huffman was one of several defendants who pleaded guilty on Monday to charges in the massive college admissions scam where parents were accused of paying thousands of dollars to get their children into schools with phony credentials or test scores.
Huffman paid the organization known as The Key Foundation Worldwide $15,000 “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter,” according to the government’s lengthy indictment. As a result, she was charged with with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for her participation in the broader alleged racketeering conspiracy. While the technical maximum punishment for such an offense is 20 years in prison, seemingly every attorney is in agreement that there’s zero chance of that happening — for Huffman or any of the parents implicated in the scheme.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney and current Pace Law Professor Mimi Rocah weighed in prior to the guilty plea and thought a little time behind bars is within the realm of possibility.
Rocah told Law&Crime at the time that Huffman “would likely be facing jail time” due to the nature of the allegations, but noted that “it will be within the sentencing Judge’s discretion as to whether to follow the guidelines or not and a lot of different factors will play into that.”
Trial attorney Page Pate also weighed in back in March, pointing out that the relatively small amount that Huffman paid (compared to the $500,000 allegedly paid by fellow actress Lori Loughlin) could mean her sentence could be on the lighter side. With that in mind, Pate predicted that Huffman could get “8-14 months (or possible probation)” if she were to plead guilty.
The sentencing issue boils down to how much fraud was involved. According to the plea agreement, which you can read in full below, prosecutors argue that Huffman’s “offense level” was a “9” on the sentencing guidelines scale, while Huffman’s defense is gunning for a “7.” To put it more simply, the government said the fraud amounted to more than $15,000, while Huffman’s team is going for “not more” than $15,000.
A “7” could mean 0-6 months behind bars, while a “9” could mean 4-10 months.
After the plea news came down, Page Pate noted that this was serious business. He said that Huffman and the other defendants who entered guilty pleas did not get “sweetheart deals.”
— Page Pate (@pagepate) April 8, 2019
Not everyone agreed that prison would be an appropriate punishment.
“If they do any time for this it’s absurd,” criminal defense attorney Tor Ekeland told Law&Crime. “Prison time? If that’s how people think punishment should be meted out in America I’m leaving the country because in the grand scale of crime this is a minor one.”
Defense attorney CJ Mordock and CNN legal analyst Ross Garber both said after the guilty plea was entered that they didn’t think jail time was likely.
— Ross Garber (@rossgarber) April 8, 2019
“Keep in mind, that the government/presiding judge may want to make an example of [the celebrities in the case] to deter the act of using wealth to manipulate the system,” Rendelman said.
Editor’s note: this story was updated after publication with additional information from the plea agreement. [Image via CHRIS DELMAS/AFP/Getty Images]