Hollywood actress and star of hit series Desperate Housewives Felicity Huffman has been jailed for 14 days over a US college bribery scandal which saw her pay a fake charity to change her daughter’s exam results so she could attend a prestigious college.
And it’s sparked a major reaction online, as many parents slam the sentence and claim it’s not enough, while some insist the 56-year-old’s actions – alongside others – have meant some students may have missed out on the opportunity of attending a college of their dreams if their parents weren’t able to support them as easily.
Huffman admitted to paying US$15,000 (AU$22K) to have her daughter Sofia’s exam answers secretly corrected in 2017. She spoke out shortly after the news broke, admitting she was “ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community”.
Now, according to multiple news outlets, Huffman has broken down in tears in court as she apologised for her actions – admitting her daughter was distraught too when she found out what she’d done and saying: “I have inflicted more damage than I could’ve ever imagined.”
She will now have to serve the 14 days behind bars followed by a year of probation, as well as being ordered to pay a fine of US$30,000 (AU$44K) and complete 250 hours of community service. The sentence sparked a lot of anger online however, as many claimed it was a lapse in justice.
One furious Twitter user wrote: “This is a slap in the face on so many levels. She knew she was committing a crime and did it anyways. Millions of people have to take out loans to go to school, some never go because of the cost. She stole an opportunity from someone who deserved it, shame on her.”
While another agreed, adding: “Justice is not blind – It doesn’t exist,” and one wrote: “If this was any other parent who couldn’t afford a $50,000 retainer, they’d be sent to jail for years.”
Another added on social media: “Glad we have an equal system of justice for rich and poor here in the US. #Huffman,” and one wrote: “As an educator, this disgusts me. What type of message are we sending parents and students? Pay enough money and your child will get into any school they want and if you get caught, don’t worry – the most you will get is slap on the wrist!”
However others said jail time was too far, with one writing: “Jail time seems harsh. She’s not a danger to anyone.”
Huffman admitted her remorse at “betraying her daughter” in a lengthy letter to the judge previously, the Mail Online reports.
“I have broken the law, deceived the educational community, betrayed my daughter, and failed my family,” she reportedly wrote. “When my daughter looked at me and asked with tears streaming down her face, ‘Why didn’t you believe in me? Why didn’t you think I could do it on my own?’ I had no adequate answer for her.”
Huffman added: “I could only say, ‘I am sorry. I was frightened and I was stupid’.” She went on: “In my blind panic, I have done the exact thing that I was desperate to avoid… I have compromised my daughter’s culture, the wholeness of my family and my own integrity.”
She was one of several parents caught in the scandal, including actress Lori Loughlin who has pleaded not guilty to paying $500,000 in bribes. She is due in court again on October 2.
The DoJ previously said the scam had two parts. First to pay a college prep organisation to take the test on behalf of students or to correct their answers. Second, to allegedly bribed college coaches to help admit the students into college as recruited athletes, regardless of their actual abilities.