Felicity Huffman, who served 11 days in jail in 2019 for paying William “Rick” Singer $15,000 to doctor her daughter’s SAT scores, opened up about the college admissions fraud scandal dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, in an interview with Eyewitness News that aired Thursday.
“People assume that I went into this looking for a way to cheat the system, and making proverbial criminal deals in back alleys, but that was not the case,” Huffman said. “I worked with a highly recommended college counselor named Rick Singer. I worked with him for a year and trusted him implicitly; he recommended programs and tutors, and he was the expert. And after a year, he started to say, ‘Your daughter is not going to get into any of the colleges that she wants to.’ And I believed him.”
The Oscar nominee was one of 50 people named during a federal investigation into Singer’s crooked “college counseling” scheme to help elite families secure admission to the universities of their choice—for a price. Huffman recalled driving her daughter Sophia to take her SAT and listening to her anxieties, with Huffman, but not her daughter, knowing all the while that the scores would come out fine because Singer would make sure of it.
“She was going, ‘Can we get ice cream afterwards? I’m scared about the test. What can we do that’s fun?’ And I kept thinking, Turn around, just turn around,” Huffman said. “To my undying shame, I didn’t.”
The college counseling Singer provided wasn’t initially unethical, she said, but when he started telling Huffman her daughter’s college prospects were bleak, things changed.
“When he slowly started to present the criminal scheme, it seemed like—and I know this seems crazy—at the time that that was my only option to give my daughter a future. I know hindsight is 20/20, but it felt like I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do it. So I did it.”
“It felt like I had to give my daughter a chance at a future,” she said. “And so it was sort of, like, my daughter’s future, which meant I had to break the law.”
Huffman was one of 33 parents implicated as a result of the investigation, alongside others like Lori Loughlin, who served almost two months in prison, and parenting influencer Jane Buckingham, who received a three-week sentence. Singer himself was sentenced to 42 months in prison and a forfeiture of $10 million in January for his scheme. According to federal prosecutors, he reportedly raked in $25 million over the years, and falsified test results, bribed officials, doctored photographs to make it seem like applicants had participated in extracurriculars, and otherwise tinkered with records to secure admission for his clients’ children. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.
Huffman’s own guilty plea resulted in a sentence of 14 days in jail (she was released three days early, October 2020, due to a prison policy for inmates released on weekends), a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service, and an apology. In a letter to the judge during her trial, Huffman wrote of her shame, and said that she had sought help with Sophia’s applications because her daughter struggled with math. Sophia had planned to apply to performing arts schools, and is now a drama major at Carnegie Mellon University.