Felicity Huffman Sentenced To 14 Days In Jail, First Parent Sentenced In College Admissions Scandal
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Actress Felicity Huffman will spend two weeks in prison for paying a test administrator $15,000 to have her daughter's SAT scores inflated. Huffman has also been fined $30,000, and she'll have to do community service. She was the first parent sentenced after an FBI investigation into a scheme the bureau dubbed Varsity Blues. It allowed wealthy parents to boost their kids' chances of getting into elite colleges.
Kirk Carapezza of member station WGBH was in court in Boston this afternoon while Huffman was sentenced. Hey, Kirk.
KIRK CARAPEZZA, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: All right. Before we get to her sentencing, let's just rewind a little here. Remind us how we got to today.
CARAPEZZA: Sure. It was just six months ago - although, for many, it feels like six years ago - when federal prosecutors unveiled this massive bribery scheme. Now, parents are accused of paying more than $25 million in total to Rick Singer. Singer's the admitted mastermind or ringleader who funneled that money through a sham charity to boost entrance exams and bribe athletic coaches in sports like water polo and sailing. Now, this case has led to a bit of a media circus here in Boston, and it's also sparked quite a bit of public outrage across the country.
CHANG: And how did Felicity Huffman react today to her sentence?
CARAPEZZA: Well, in court just before her sentence, Huffman's voice shook and cracked a bit as she recalled the exact moment her daughter learned of her mother's actions and asked, why did you - why didn't you believe in me, why didn't you believe I could just do this on my own? It was it an emotional moment. She didn't talk to reporters on the way out, but in a statement she said there are no excuses for her actions, and she apologized to the students who work hard to get into college and their parents who support them.
CHANG: Now, when the story about this case broke, it raised all kinds of questions about wealth and privilege, how they totally affect access to higher education. As you've been covering this story, do you hear from people who think this whole case will actually bring about real change?
CARAPEZZA: (Laughter) Most of the folks I speak with behind closed doors in higher ed are pretty skeptical that this will lead to any meaningful change. I mean, a lot of schools are conducting audits of their admissions and athletics departments. But Tony Jack teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, and he told me the fact Huffman got just two weeks in jail proves money talks and privilege walks.
TONY JACK: They are able to curate this image of, I was just doing the best for my child, when other families are literally being torn apart for trying to give their child not a seat at an Ivy League school or an elite school but merely access to a school where their child does not have to worry about getting shot, stabbed, bullied or beaten. This is a miscarriage of justice.
CARAPEZZA: And, Ailsa, Tony Jack dismisses this idea that participating in the bribery scheme was a victimless crime.
JACK: By virtue of what they did to get into these schools, you stole a seat that could've been filled by someone who earned that seat. They stole dreams. They stole hopes. They stole things that money cannot buy.
CARAPEZZA: Jack says today's sentence shows racial bias, and he points to cases where black and brown parents have faced more time in jail for committing similar fraud.
CHANG: Now, as we mentioned, Felicity Huffman was the first parent to be sentenced out of 34. Does today's sentence offer any clues about what's in store for the other parents, whose cases haven't yet been decided?
CARAPEZZA: Well, one former judge told me the amount that parents put forth in a bribe should shape their sentences. And she predicts many of the parents and coaches will face prison time. And the man who organized the scheme, Rick Singer, will likely get a lesser sentence but still a substantial one because he has agreed to cooperate with investigators.
CHANG: All right. That's Kirk Carapezza from member station WGBH in Boston.
CARAPEZZA: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.