Of 35 parents charged, 15 have pleaded guilty. Each parent sentenced so far has received a prison term. The shortest sentence was two weeks behind bars for actress Felicity Huffman; the longest, five months, for winemaker Agustin F. Huneeus.
On Tuesday in Boston, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced both Abbotts to a month in prison and a year of supervised release, the U.S. attorney’s office announced. The judge also imposed a $45,000 fine on each defendant and a requirement for 250 hours of community service.
Prosecutors had asked Talwani to impose eight-month prison terms, arguing in a sentencing memo that the Abbotts were repeat customers of a corrupt consultant who offered fraudulent test scores for a fee. Their daughter obtained 35 out of 36 on the ACT through the scam, with illicit help from a proctor who corrected her answers, court records show, as well as a perfect 800 on an SAT subject test in math and 710 on an SAT subject test in English literature.
Using a family foundation, court records show, the couple paid $50,000 for cheating on the ACT and $75,000 for cheating on the subject tests.
The subject tests were “a little more expensive,” the consultant, William “Rick” Singer, told Marcia Abbott in a 2018 telephone call, according to court records, because they’re not like regular admission tests. “They’re much harder.”
“Yeah, well they’re very specialized,” Marcia Abbott replied, according to the records.
Singer has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes. The daughter has not been charged with any crime, and her parents said she was unaware of the scheme.
Attorneys for the couple say that Singer preyed on the Abbotts at a time of family crisis while they were separated. The attorneys, in a joint sentencing memo, asked Talwani to sentence the couple to probation and community service.
“To all those souls who struggle every day to put food on the table and get their kids access to college, I apologize for any sense of resentment or inequity my actions provoked, and humbly ask forgiveness,” Gregory Abbott wrote in a letter to Talwani.
In a separate letter, Marcia Abbott wrote the judge: “I understand the outrage of those who saw us as trying to game the system. … Dismay, along with regret and contrition, accompany me every day.”
At this point, it appears that any parent convicted in the case faces significant jeopardy of time in prison. That raises the stakes for those who are fighting charges. Among those who have pleaded not guilty to fraud conspiracy and money laundering are actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli.
Andrew E. Lelling, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, warned this week that defendants convicted after a trial are likely to face longer terms. In an interview Sunday with Boston station WCVB-TV, Lelling called Huffman the “least culpable” defendant and praised her contrition and rapid guilty plea. “I think she handled it in a very classy way,” Lelling said.
Asked what these developments could mean for Loughlin, Lelling told WCVB: “Well, if she is convicted, I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets by saying we would probably ask for a higher sentence for her than we did for Felicity Huffman.” But he added: “It’s tough to tell at this point how it’s going to develop.”
An attorney for Loughlin could not be reached for comment.