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Actress Felicity Huffman pleads guilty in college admissions scandal

Prosecutors have recommended the Desperate Housewives star spend four months in prison.

Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston (Steven Senne/AP)
Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston (Steven Senne/AP)

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman has pleaded guilty to participating in a college admissions cheating scheme in the US.

The 56-year-old actress entered the plea on Monday to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

She is the biggest name to do so in a scandal that has exposed the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their children into top universities.

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Felicity Huffman arrives with her brother Moore Huffman Jr (Steven Senne/AP)

The Emmy-winning actress could face prison time after she admitted participating in the nationwide scam, in which authorities say parents bribed coaches, rigged entrance exams or both to game the admissions system.

Huffman pleaded guilty in federal court to paying an admissions consultant 15,000 US dollars (£11,570) to have a proctor correct her older daughter’s answers on the SAT.

She also considered going through with the plan for her younger daughter before ultimately deciding not to, authorities say.

In court, Huffman explained her daughter had been seeing a neuropsychologist for years and getting extra time on tests since she was 11 – an apparent attempt to explain her daughter’s doctor had no part in the scheme.

“I just didn’t want to create the impression that neuropsychologists have any part in this,” a tearful Huffman said before stopping to collect herself.

Huffman arrived at court holding the hand of her brother Moore Huffman Jr and did not say anything to journalists.

In court, she wore a grey dress and a sweater, and sat flanked by her attorneys while her brother watched from the front row.

Her husband, actor William H Macy, did not attend.

She stood with her hands clasped in front of her and responded “yes, your honour” when asked whether she understood the charges.

Sentencing was set for September 13. Prosecutors are seeking four to 10 months behind bars.

Because she agreed to plead guilty, prosecutors said they would recommend four months in prison but the judge could also choose not to put her behind bars at all.

My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty. Felicity Huffman

Huffman apologised in a statement last month and said she will accept the consequences.

She said she “betrayed” her 18-year-old daughter, who was not aware of her plan.

“This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life,” Huffman said.

“My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty.”

Investigators have said Macy, 69, was with her when admissions consultant Rick Singer explained how he could arrange for the cheating because he “controlled” a test centre.

Both Huffman and Macy agreed to the plan, authorities say but Macy has not been charged. Prosecutors have not explained why.

California businessman Devin Sloane also pleaded guilty on Monday to paying 250,000 US dollars (£192,834) in bribes to get his son into the University of Southern California as a fake water polo recruit.

Authorities say he gave the cash to Singer’s sham charity and the USC women’s athletics programme to have his son designated as a water polo recruit even though he did not play the sport.

Officials say Sloane even bought athletic gear online and worked with a graphic designer to create a bogus photo of his son playing the sport for the teenager’s application.

Huffman and Sloane are among 14 parents who agreed to plead guilty in the biggest admissions scandal prosecuted in the US, known as Operation Varsity Blues.

The scandal involving prestigious schools across the country has also embroiled prominent college coaches.

Experts differ on whether Huffman’s swift acceptance of responsibility will leave her with an acting career.

After Huffman agreed to plead guilty, Netflix officials said a film starring her, Otherhood, would not be released as planned in April and a new date would be determined.

A limited series featuring Huffman on the Central Park Five case is expected to debut this month.

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