Felicity Huffman pleads guilty in college admissions scandal

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman has pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to rig her daughter's SAT score in a U.S. college admissions scheme that involved wealthy parents and athletic coaches at some of the country's top schools.

Desperate Housewives actress paid $15K to boost daughter's SAT scores

Actress Felicity Huffman arrives at the federal courthouse to face charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston, Mass., on Monday. (Katherine Taylor/Reuters)

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty Monday in the U.S. college admissions bribery scheme, the biggest name to do so in a scandal that has exposed the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their children into top universities.

The Emmy-winning actress, 56, could face prison time after she admitted to participating in the nationwide scam, in which authorities say parents bribed coaches, rigged entrance exams or both to game the admissions system.

Huffman pleaded guilty in federal court to paying an admissions consultant $15,000 US to have a proctor correct her older daughter's answers on the SAT. She also considered going through with the plan for her younger daughter before ultimately deciding not to, authorities say.

The consultant, Rick Singer, arranged for the cheating by having students obtain permission for extra time on the exams through diagnoses for things like learning disabilities, and then taking the exams at his testing centre, prosecutors say.

In court, Huffman explained her daughter had been seeing a neuropsychologist for years and been getting extra time on tests since she was 11 — an apparent attempt to explain that her daughter's doctor had no part in the scheme.

"I just didn't want to create the impression that neuropsychologists have any part in this," a tearful Huffman said before stopping to collect herself.

Huffman, centre, departs federal court with her brother, Moore Huffman Jr., left, on Monday in Boston, where she pleaded guilty to charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (Steven Senne/Associated Press)

Her sentencing is set for Sept. 13. Because she agreed to plead guilty, prosecutors said they would recommend four months in prison, but the judge could choose not to put her behind bars at all.

She arrived at court holding her brother Moore Huffman Jr.'s hand, and did not say anything to journalists. Wearing a grey dress and sweater, she sat in court flanked by her attorneys while her brother watched from the front row. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, did not attend.

Actress 'betrayed' unsuspecting daughter

Huffman apologized in a statement last month and said she will accept the consequences. She said she "betrayed" her 18-year-old daughter, who was not aware of her plan.

"This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life. My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty," Huffman said.

Investigators have said Macy, 69, was with Huffman when Singer, the admissions consultant, explained how he could arrange for the cheating because he "controlled" a test centre.

Both Huffman and Macy agreed to the plan, authorities say, but Macy has not been charged. Prosecutors have not explained why.

More parents pleading guilty 

California businessman Devin Sloane also pleaded guilty Monday to paying $250,000 US in bribes to get his son into the University of Southern California (USC) as a fake water polo recruit, even though he didn't play the sport.

Officials say Sloane even bought athletic gear online and worked with a graphic designer to create a bogus photo of his son playing the sport for the teen's application.

Huffman and Sloane are among 14 parents who agreed to plead guilty in the biggest admissions scandal ever prosecuted in the U.S., known as Operation Varsity Blues. The scandal involving prestigious schools across the country has also embroiled prominent college coaches.

William (Rick) Singer leaves a federal courthouse in Boston on March 12, after being charged in the nationwide college admissions cheating scheme. (Bryan Snyder/Reuters)

The parents are accused of paying Singer to bribe coaches in exchange for helping their children get into schools as fake athletic recruits. Singer also paid off entrance exam administrators to allow someone else to take tests for students or fix their answers, authorities say.

Some parents and coaches who have agreed to plead guilty are co-operating with prosecutors against current or future co-defendants, but Huffman is not known to be among them.

Singer has pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy. He began working with authorities last year and secretly recorded his conversations with Full House actress Lori Loughlin, Huffman and other parents, in the hopes of getting a lenient sentence.

Fellow actress fights charges

Some parents have decided to fight the charges, including Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who have pleaded not guilty to paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into USC as rowing recruits, despite the fact neither is a rower.

Actress Lori Loughlin is on the list of wealthy parents charged in the college admissions scandal. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Loughlin and Giannulli, who are also charged with money laundering conspiracy, have not publicly commented on the allegations.

Besides earning accolades for her role in Desperate Housewives, Huffman was nominated for an Oscar for playing a transgender woman in the movie Transamerica. But experts differ on whether Huffman's swift acceptance of responsibility in the college admissions scandal will leave her with an acting career.

After she agreed to plead guilty, Netflix officials said a film called Otherhood, starring Huffman, would not be released as planned in April, and a new date would be determined. Huffman is also featured in a limited series expected to debut this month, about the Central Park Five case that involved the rape and beating of a New York City jogger in 1989.