Felicity Huffman and 12 other parents embroiled in the largest college admissions scandal in United States history will plead guilty to bribery and gaming entrance systems to get their children into elite universities.
Federal prosecutors announced the plea deals on Monday, about a month after the Justice Department unveiled the scam, which allegedly involved 50 people, including celebrities, tech executives, entrepreneurs, famous college coaches, and admissions test proctors across the country.
One coach is also pleading guilty.
In their complaint, authorities detailed how wealthy parents paid William "Rick" Singer, a 58-year-old life coach from Newport Beach, California, a total of about $25 million to bribe test administrators and employees at schools like Georgetown, Yale, Stanford, and the University of Southern California to fake test scores and athletic achievements to ensure their children got accepted.
Eleven of the parents, including Huffman; Jane Buckingham, a marketing guru; Gordon Caplan, a prominent attorney from Connecticut; Robert Flaxman, a resort developer; and top LA executives Stephen Semprevivo, Devin Sloane, and others paid Singer up to $400,000 for his work.
In a statement, Huffman, who prosecutors accused of paying Singer at least $15,000 to correct her daughter’s college entrance exam scores, said she fully accepts her guilt and is “ashamed” at the pain she has caused.
“I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility of my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,” she said. “I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues, and the educational community,” she said. “I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”
Her daughter knew “absolutely nothing” about the scam, Huffman added, and “in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her.”
“This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life,” she said.
The 14 defendants in Monday's group will plead guilty to charges of mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, prosecutors said.
Michael Center, who coached tennis at the University of Texas at Austin, will also plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. According to prosecutors, the 54-year-old accepted $60,000 in cash from Singer, as well as a $40,000 donation to the school's tennis program to ensure one teen was accepted as a student athlete.
The charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud can carry a maximum 20-year prison sentence, as well as three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, prosecutors added.
However, the plea agreement states that prosecutors will seek a sentence of four to 10 months in federal prison.
Davina and Bruce Isackson, who a real estate developer, will also plead guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the IRS, prosecutors said. The couple is accused of paying the admissions scam ringleader a total of $600,000 to secure one daughter's spot at the University of California, Los Angeles, by creating a fake athletic profile and to get another into USC with the help of falsified test scores and a fabricated rowing career.
They, too, said in a statement they accept "full responsibility for our bad judgment" and are working with prosecutors in hopes of securing a lighter sentence.
About a dozen other parents, including Lori Loughlin, famous for playing Aunt Becky on “Full House" and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, have yet to take any plea deals or make any statements about the case, despite appearing in federal court in Boston last week.
Several prominent college coaches have also pleaded guilty for taking bribes to admit students under the guise of athletic capability. Stanford’s former sailing coach John Vandemoer admitted guilt for accepting $270,000 to recommend two prospective students. However, Gordon Ernst, who taught tennis at Georgetown, has pleaded not guilty to allegedly taking $2.7 million to help at least 12 teens get into the private school.
Legal experts say that although parents are accepting plea deals, "a good number of them will still be going to federal prison."
"Pleading guilty at this early stage is exactly what parents had to do to minimize exposure and avoid substantial federal prison time," Manny Medrano, a former federal prosecutor who now practices in Los Angeles, told BuzzFeed News. "But the bad news is that they will still be doing time."
Medrano, who specializes in white collar crime, said parents like Huffman, who paid one of the lesser bribes and has no prior criminal history, could potentially get "straight probation" with the help of a very good defense attorney.
But given the high-profile nature of the case, the number of people involved, and the amount of money that was illegally exchanged, federal prosecutors are likely looking to send a strong message.
"Those federal prosecutors out of Boston are still looking into other parents and sending out subpoenas," he said. "Singer is singing like a canary, so this case is not over. We will see additional charges against other parents."