“I was frightened, I was stupid, and I was so wrong,” actor Felicity Huffman told a federal court, accepting responsibility for her role in a bribery scheme to help her daughter Sophia get in to college. “I am deeply ashamed of what I’ve done.”
What Huffman had allegedly done was pay $15,000 disguised as a charitable contribution to doctor Sophia’s entrance exam results.
Huffman pleaded guilty to one federal fraud charge in May, and this week she was sentenced to 14 days in prison. She’s the first parent involved in the wide-ranging scandal to be sentenced, but how does hers compare to other penalties handed down in school crime cases?
A Slap on the Wrist
Huffman’s sentence includes one year of supervised release and a $30,000 fine. Compared to the maximum penalties she was facing — incarceration for 20 years, supervised release for three years, a fine of $250,000, and restitution — the actor got off light.
“With all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood,” Assistant US Attorney Eric Rosen argued in court. “There’s no instruction manual. Parenthood is exhausting and stressful, but that’s what every parent goes through.”
“In my desperation to be a good mother, I talked myself into believing that all I was doing was giving my daughter a fair shot,” Huffman wrote in a letter to Judge Indira Talwani. “I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair.” According to charging documents, Huffman and husband William H. Macy also planned to pursue the same scheme a second time for their younger daughter before deciding not to.
Slapping on the Cuffs
Although both prosecutors and Huffman’s defense team argued that her fame and wealth should not be considered during her sentencing, her two-week prison term has been viewed as extraordinarily lenient, especially when juxtaposed against the 5-year prison term handed down to Tonya McDowell, who was charged with first-degree larceny for sending her son to the wrong school district.
McDowell was homeless in 2011, when she was arrested for stealing $15,000 (the alleged value of her 5-year-old son’s elementary school education) from a Connecticut school district. As reported at the time:
But, police began investigating in January, after the Norwalk Housing Authority filed a complaint that McDowell had registered her son at Brookside Elementary School in Norwalk, even though she had been living in an apartment on Priscilla Street in Bridgeport.
McDowell admitted to police she was allowed to sleep in the apartment on Priscilla Street in Bridgeport by the tenant, but had to leave during the day, according to the Advocate. She also told police she sometimes stayed at an emergency shelter in Norwalk.
Police say McDowell used the Norwalk address of the boy’s babysitter to register him at the school. After the investigation, the babysitter was evicted.
School enrollment fraud can indeed be costly, but it turns out some fraud is costlier than others.