Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman on Friday learned her fate in “Operation Varsity Blues,” otherwise known as the college admissions scandal: 14 days, behind bars, a $30,000 fine, a year of supervised release, and 250 hours of community service. Legal experts immediately responded to the Huffman sentencing by saying that it should “freak out” her fellow actress Lori Loughlin, and it’s not hard to see why.
Huffman, unlike Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, moved quickly to plead guilty in this case. Huffman pleaded guilty in May, a month after being named in the same complaint as Loughlin and Giannulli. Huffman accepted responsibility and offered a public apology for her conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
“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 admitted. “I see the irony in that statement now because what I have done is the opposite of fair. I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter, and failed my family.”
Despite all of this and the government apparently concluding that Huffman was “one of the two least culpable defendants” (the bribe was $15,000), she still didn’t escape without time behind bars.
Attorneys immediately took note of this and said it does not bode well for Loughlin and Giannulli. National security lawyer Bradley P. Moss went so far as to say the Friday news should “freak out” Loughlin. Moss told Law&Crime why that is.
“Felicity Huffman arguably did everything possible from the outset to accept responsibility for her actions, agreeing to a plea deal, expressing remorse and admitting she had made mistakes,” Moss said. “Lori Loughlin, on the other hand, stood defiant and was rewarded with a superseding indictment with additional charges. If even Huffman is still going to face some jail time (miniscule at it is), Loughlin has to be increasingly worried she could face years in jail if she is convicted at trial.”
Moss’s colleague at Mark S. Zaid, P.C. law firm, Mark S. Zaid, had a similar reaction to the news.
“#LoriLoughlin is definitely stressing out now. While 14 days in jail might not seem to be much, that sentence was for highly cooperating defendant who only paid $15,000 in ‘bribe,'” Zaid tweeted. “#Loughlin is totally uncooperative, showing no regret & paid in excess of $500,000 in ‘bribes.'”
The superseding indictment of Loughlin and Giannulli that Moss referred to included money laundering charges — on top of the conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud charges Huffman and other parents were hit with. Loughlin and Giannulli decided to reject a plea deal, to instead take their chances in court. On paper, they face up to 40 years behind bars. While the maximum won’t happen, it’s worth mentioning to illustrate that these defendants are in a much more perilous place than Huffman ever was.
As Law&Crime has repeatedly noted, there is a problem with comparing Huffman’s case to the Loughlin-Giannulli case; the alleged levels of offense are quite different. Huffman’s acceptance of responsibility and early guilty plea certainly played a role in the light sentence she received, but so did the amount of money involved in the crime. The level of offense has an effect on what the sentencing guidelines call for.
While Huffman admitted to shelling out a $15,000 bribe to have her daughter’s SAT college admission entrance exam answers corrected by the test proctor, Loughlin and Giannulli are accused of creating fake rowing profiles to get their daughters Isabella Giannulli and Olivia Jade Giannulli into USC, “agree[ing] to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the [University of Southern California (USC)] crew team–despite the fact that they did not participate in crew.”
The Toby MacFarlane case is a better one to compare to the Loughlin-Giannulli case. MacFarlane, a former senior executive at WFG National Title Insurance Company, admitted to paying $450,000 in bribes. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud — nominally the same charges as the ones Huffman pleaded guilty to, but yet the government recommended 15 months in prison, a year of supervised release, plus a fine of $95,000, restitution and forfeiture, due to the level of offense. MacFarlane admitted that he committed conspiracy to commit fraud by “getting my children into USC as recruited athletes when in fact they’re not.”
For more perspective, you can compare what the government recommended in the MacFarlane case to what was recommended in the Huffman case. The sentencing memorandum, submitted by U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen, recommended that Huffman spend no less than 30 days in jail in order to properly punish Huffman for conduct characterized as “deliberate and manifestly criminal.” Prosecutors also recommended Huffman be sentenced to one-year of probation and pay a $20,000 fine.
Law&Crime Network host Bob Bianchi, a former Morris County, N.J. head prosecutor, also said that the Huffman news should “frighten” Loughlin.
Bianchi commented that the “legal strategy and public relations has been horrible.” He previously argued that, perhaps, Loughlin “naively” believed she would “get a [Jussie] Smollett deal,” and made note of the error of such a hope.
“I am not saying that these parents should never see the light of day again, but typically when the reality hits defendants that they have harmed themselves further by having more serious charges filed against them, it is a decision often regretted — from within a place where there is plenty of time to do little other than ponder their decisions,” Bianchi wrote.
Jerry Lambe contributed to this report.
[Image via YouTube screengrab]
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