Photo courtesy of Matt Petit/Flickr

How to illegally pay your way to college

By Ramiro Bustamante-Torres, October 12 2019—

If you haven’t heard, Felicity Huffman, ex-Desperate Housewives star and current fraud convict, has been sentenced to 14 days of prison with a $30,000 USD fine, 250 hours of community service and a year of supervised probation. What was the crime again? Oh yeah, paying $15,000 USD to an admissions office to tamper with her daughter’s SAT score to get her accepted into the university of her choice. Now, some might think that they would be willing to pay that kind of money to get in, if they had it. But, not everyone has those kinds of opportunities. Many students struggle to pay the rising prices of university, included but not limited to housing, meal plans, textbooks, gas money or transit fare and other emergency funds. The common student then relies on finding scholarships, loans, bursaries, birthday money, rich grandparents — if they have any — RESPs — also, if they have any — and that toonie they found on the sidewalk. The fact of the matter is that there are people that are struggling and there are those that can get as many second chances as they want.

Huffman’s sentence was — simply put — light. Knowing that she was capable of dropping $15k for her daughter to be assured a spot in university, paying twice the amount should be no small loss for her. Huffman had pleaded guilty for committing mail fraud, which isn’t the type of crime the common person would believe she committed. Bribery seems more reasonable. But, Huffman asked an admissions consultant to alter her daughter’s SAT score, and therefore had been tampering in connection with the mail services. 

Committing Mail Fraud and Honest Services Mail Fraud carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 USD. She had gotten away with a very small fraction of what it could have been, but the punishment fits the crime, doesn’t it? Usually, people think of princes from some foreign country asking for money when the “prince” is probably some guy in his mother’s basement trying to get out. Therefore, someone with malicious intent using the mailing system in their process or scheme should be held to a higher standard.

 Huffman’s involvement in this scheme has been proven and she was the first among many parents to have finished her trial. Given the nature of the crime and the fact that she pleaded guilty, she had gotten off quite light compared to the others who have also gone through trial. Devin Sloane, the CEO of a drinking and wastewater company and second parent to be convicted, received four months of prison, 500 hours of community service and a $95,000 USD fine. Another parent wealthy businessman, Stephen Semprevivo, received four months in prison as well as a fine of $100,000 USD. Their sentences seem much heavier than Huffman’s, but Sloane and Semprevivo both paid $250,000 and $400,000 USD respectively and they had a higher involvement in the scheme than Huffman. The judge overseeing the cases had also chosen to sentence them less than what was recommended by the prosecutors.  

These people had paid thousands of dollars to make sure their children got in the post-secondary school of their choice but how is that any different than the rest of the parents? Well, they had bribed and committed fraud to give their children a chance they could easily afford, most likely taking a spot from a deserving student. The money that was used in the scheme went to a “charity,” which turned out to be the Charity of Bribable School Officials. Now, you could say that they had plead guilty and admitted their wrongdoings, therefore they don’t deserve any prison time, but $15,000—400,000 USD is not an amount of cash many have lying around. That this money somehow ended up in the hands of a school official who happens to work at the university you had been eyeing for your kid is suspicious. These were choices they made and choices that came with consequences. 

Huffman’s daughter had announced that she will be re-taking the SAT exam after her mother’s involvement in her initial scores was exposed, a good step into remedying the situation.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet‘s editorial board.



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