Felicity Huffman was sentenced on Friday to 14 days in prison for the crime of paying $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score.
Judge Indira Talwani also ordered her to serve 250 hours of community service and a year of probation, and pay a $30,000 fine. The sentence came as a surprise, as Talwani had been skeptical of prosecution arguments leading up to the hearing.
“Trying to be a good mother doesn’t excuse this,” Talwani said in issuing her verdict. “The outrage in this case is a system that is already so distorted by money and privilege in the first place… You took the step of having one more advantage to put your child ahead.”
Huffman was ordered to report to prison on Oct. 25.
Prosecutors had argued that she should be sentenced to one month behind bars.
“A message must be sent and imprisonment is the only way to send that message,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen, arguing that anything less would show that the rich get preferential treatment. “In prison everyone wears the same clothes. Prison is the great leveler.”
Huffman gave a tearful apology before the sentence was rendered.
“I was frightened, I was stupid and I was so wrong,” she said. “I am deeply ashamed of what I have done.”
Her attorney, Martin F. Murphy, asked for a sentence of one year of probation and community service.
“A sentence of probation is real punishment,” he argued.
Huffman agreed to plead guilty in April to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. She was one of 33 parents ensnared in the initial sweep of Operation Varsity Blues, a wide-ranging FBI investigation into cheating in elite college admissions.
Huffman wrote a letter to the judge last week, in which she apologized and sought to give an explanation. She said she was panicked by the fear that her daughter would not get into school to study acting because of her low test scores.
“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,” she wrote.
Rosen countered that argument in court on Friday.
“With all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood,” he said. “Parenting does not make you a felon. It does not make you cheat.”
Her husband, actor William H. Macy, told the court in a letter that Huffman has received no acting offers or auditions since the scandal broke.
“Felicity’s only interest now is figuring out how to make amends and help her daughters heal and move on,” he wrote.
Rosen was skeptical that Huffman’s career would be seriously impaired by the charges. “She is extraordinarily talented,” he said. “She’ll be just fine.”
Huffman is the first parent to be sentenced in the cheating case. Others, including actress Lori Loughlin, have refused to take the government’s plea offer.