Actress Felicity Huffman and a dozen other parents acknowledged they had used bribery and other fraud to help get their children into selective colleges, prosecutors announced Monday. A coach also agreed to plead guilty.
The Justice Department charged 50 people last month in what U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling in Boston called the largest college admissions scam prosecuted by the agency. On Monday, the parents each agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, including Huffman.
Michael Center, former head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas at Austin, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors say Center accepted $60,000 in cash from William “Rick” Singer in 2015 and $40,000 that was directed to the school’s tennis program in exchange for designating an applicant to the university as a tennis recruit to help him gain admission.
Prosecutors said Singer, a college consultant, was the mastermind of the scheme to help wealthy parents buy admission into elite colleges for their children.
In a written statement Monday, Huffman expressed “deep regret and shame over what I have done,” and said she was ashamed for the pain she had caused her daughter, friends and others. She also apologized “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 nothing about her actions, Huffman wrote, “and in my misguided and profoundly wrong way, I have betrayed her.” That transgression, she wrote, “I will carry for the rest of my life.”
Huffman, 56, who starred in the TV show “Desperate Housewives,” agreed to pay Singer at least $15,000 to participate in the entrance exam cheating scheme for her oldest daughter, prosecutors said.
It is not clear what penalties Huffman or the other defendants are facing.
Elizabeth Much, a publicist for the other Hollywood actress charged in the scheme, Lori Loughlin, said she did not have any information to share. Loughlin was not among those identified by prosecutors Monday as having pleaded guilty.
The scandal quickly became a symbol of the influence of money and the anxiety surrounding college admissions.
Last month, Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Singer became key to the investigation as he cooperated with authorities for months, recording conversations he had with his clients.
Prosecutors described a scheme in which Singer took money from parents to bribe coaches and to pay someone to take standardized tests, essentially guaranteeing the parents’ children would get good scores and likely admission as athletic recruits. Money “donated” to a fraudulent charity Singer established was used to pay off proctors whose job was to prevent cheating on tests, and to pay Mark Riddell, who worked at a sports academy, to take the tests.
Prosecutors say Singer paid coaches and an athletic department administrator to create fake profiles for some applicants so they would appear to be desirable athletic recruits, even though the students in some cases did not even play the sport in question.
Schools involved in the case quickly pledged to scrutinize their admissions policies and review controls on athletic recruits. Yale University and the University of Southern California rescinded admission offers to students implicated in the case.
Earlier this month, Stanford University said it had determined some information in a student’s application is false and rescinded admission and vacated credits. The student is no longer on Stanford’s campus, according to university officials.
Neama Rahmani, a lawyer in Los Angeles and former federal prosecutor, said he wasn’t surprised Huffman and other parents agreed to plead guilty so quickly, because the evidence in the case is overwhelming, and the potential for imprisonment significant.
“By entering into a plea agreement now, Huffman avoids indictment on additional charges by the grand jury and may limit her sentencing exposure to the amount she actually paid Singer, instead of the total amount of the fraudulent conspiracy,” Rahmani wrote in an email. Indicating remorse and accepting responsibility could also influence the judge during sentencing.
Prosecutors said 11 defendants had agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in connection with the scheme:
— Gregory Abbott, 68, and his wife, Marcia Abbott, 59, of New York agreed to pay Singer $125,000 on behalf of their daughter.
— Jane Buckingham, 50, of Beverly Hills, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $50,000 on behalf of her son.
— Gordon Caplan, 52, of Greenwich, Conn., agreed to pay Singer $75,000 on behalf of his daughter.
— Robert Flaxman, 62, of Laguna Beach, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $75,000 on behalf of his daughter.
— Felicity Huffman, 56, of Los Angeles agreed to pay Singer at least $15,000 on behalf of her oldest daughter.
— Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco, agreed to pay Singer $300,000 on behalf of his daughter.
— Marjorie Klapper, 50, of Menlo Park, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $15,000 on behalf of her son.
— Peter Jan Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $15,000 on behalf of his daughter.
— Stephen Semprevivo, 53, of Los Angeles agreed to pay Singer $400,000 on behalf of his son.
— Devin Sloane, 53, of Los Angeles agreed to pay Singer $250,000 on behalf of his son.
Additionally, Bruce Isackson, 61, and Davina Isackson, 55, of Hillsborough, Calif., who are cooperating with the investigation, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
Prosecutors said Bruce Isackson will also plead guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS. The Isacksons agreed to pay Singer $600,000 for their daughters, prosecutors said, and underpaid their federal income taxes by deducting the bribe payments as though they were charitable contributions.
Emily Yahr contributed to this report.