Felicity Huffman, 13 other defendants in college admissions scandal to plead guilty
BOSTON — Actress Felicity Huffman and a dozen other prominent parents have agreed to plead guilty in the sweeping college admissions cheating scam that has ensnared wealthy families and athletic coaches at some of the nation’s most selective universities, federal authorities said Monday.
The “Desperate Housewives” star and the other parents will admit to charges in the scheme, which authorities say involved rigging standardized test scores and bribing coaches at such prestigious schools as Yale and Georgetown.
Huffman, 56, was accused of paying a consultant $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation to boost her daughter’s SAT score. Authorities say the actress also discussed going through with the same plan for her younger daughter, but she ultimately decided not to.
Other parents charged in the scheme include prominent figures in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields.
It’s the biggest college admissions case ever prosecuted by the Justice Department. The scandal embroiled elite universities across the country and laid bare the lengths to which status-seeking parents will go to secure their children a coveted spot.
The consultant, Rick Singer, met with Huffman and her husband, 69-year-old actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained to them he “controlled” a testing center and could have somebody secretly change their daughter’s answers, authorities say. Singer told investigators Huffman and her husband agreed to the plan.
Macy was not charged. Authorities have not said why.
Huffman will plead guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud, according to court documents.
In her first public comments since her arrest last month, she apologized and said she accepts full responsibility for her actions and “will accept the consequences.”
Huffman said in a statement that her daughter did not know about her actions. She said her desire to help her daughter was “no excuse to break the law.”
Michael Center, the former men’s tennis coach at the University of Texas at Austin, has also agreed to plead guilty, prosecutors said Monday. Center was accused of accepting nearly $100,000 to help a non-tennis playing applicant get admitted as a recruit.
California real estate developer Bruce Isackson and his wife, Davina Isackson, who are pleading guilty to participating in both the athletic recruitment and exam rigging schemes, are cooperating with prosecutors for a chance at a lighter sentence.
“We have worked cooperatively with the prosecutors and will continue to do so as we take full responsibility for our bad judgment,” they said in a statement.
Fellow actress Lori Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House,” and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though neither participated in the sport. They were not among those who agreed to plead guilty, and they have not publicly addressed the allegations.
Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy on March 12, the same day the allegations against the parents and coaches were made public in the so-called Operations Varsity Blues investigation. Singer secretly recorded his conversations with the parents, helping to build the case against them, after agreeing to work with investigators in the hopes of getting a lesser sentence.
Several coaches have also been charged, including longtime tennis coach Gordon Ernst who’s accused of getting $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 applicants as recruits to Georgetown. Ernst, who was also the personal tennis coach for former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, and a number of other coaches have pleaded not guilty.
Former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith has pleaded guilty to accepting bribes to help students get admitted and has been cooperating with authorities. Stanford’s former sailing coach John
Vandemoer also pleaded guilty to accepting $270,000 in contributions to the program for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission.
Stanford University expelled a student who lied about her sailing credentials in her application, which was linked to the scandal. The university quietly announced it had rescinded the student’s admission in a short statement posted on its website April 2 after determining “some of the material in the student’s application is false.”
University officials previously said the student was admitted without the recommendation of Vandemoer.
- Gregory Abbott, 68, of New York, N.Y., together with his wife, Marcia, agreed to pay Singer $125,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for their daughter;
- Marcia Abbott, 59, of New York, N.Y.;
- Jane Buckingham, 50, of Beverly Hills, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $50,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for her son;
- Gordon Caplan, 52, of Greenwich, Conn., agreed to pay Singer $75,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for his daughter;
- Robert Flaxman, 62, of Laguna Beach, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $75,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for his daughter;
- Felicity Huffman, 56, of Los Angeles, Calif., agreed to pay Singer at least $15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for her oldest daughter;
- Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $300,000 to participate in both the college entrance exam cheating scheme and the college recruitment scheme for his daughter;
- Marjorie Klapper, 50, of Menlo Park, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for her son;
- Peter Jan Sartorio, 53, of Menlo Park, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for his daughter;
- Stephen Semprevivo, 53, of Los Angeles, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $400,000 to participate in the college recruitment scheme for his son; and
- Devin Sloane, 53, of Los Angeles, Calif., agreed to pay Singer $250,000 to participate in the college recruitment scheme for his son.
In addition, Bruce Isackson, 61, and Davina Isackson, 55, of Hillsborough, Calif., were charged in a separate Information and have both agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. 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 an amount, ultimately totaling $600,000, to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for their younger daughter and the college recruitment scheme for both of their daughters. The Isacksons also underpaid their federal income taxes by deducting the bribe payments as purported charitable contributions. The Isacksons are cooperating with the government’s investigation.
Michael Center, 54, of Austin, Texas, the former head coach of men’s tennis at the University of Texas at Austin, was charged in a third Information and has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. In 2015, Center personally accepted $60,000 in cash from Singer, as well as $40,000 directed to the University of Texas tennis program, in exchange for designating the child of one of Singer’s clients as a tennis recruit, thereby facilitating his admission to the University of Texas.
All of the defendants who improperly took tax deductions for the bribe payments have agreed to cooperate with the IRS to pay back taxes.