AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Felicity Huffman, the actress known for her role in "Desperate Housewives," was in federal court in Boston today. She pleaded guilty to a scheme that involved cheating on her daughter's college entrance exams. Huffman is one of 50 people charged in a massive conspiracy and bribery case that involves wealthy parents, college coaches, test proctors on the take and the mastermind, a corrupt college consultant.
NPR's Tovia Smith has been following the story from Boston and joins us now. Tovia, let's begin with what you saw in court today.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Well, Felicity Huffman actually broke down in tears in court as she explained to the judge that her daughter knew nothing about the scam and that her daughter's accommodation for extra time on tests was legit. But she then pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, admitting that she paid $15,000 to get her daughter's SAT scores boosted by having someone correct the answers after the daughter took the test.
And we know Huffman is among the most high-profile of defendants, along with the other Hollywood star Lori Loughlin, but another parent also pleaded guilty in court today, and that is LA businessman Devin Sloane, who was involved in a different angle of this scam. He paid bribes to get his son recruited to the USC water polo team even though the son was never a competitive player. And the dad went so far as to get someone to photoshop pictures of his son to look like he was. And he paid $250,000 in bribes that were disguised as charitable donations.
CORNISH: Sloane and Huffman are among 20 parents, coaches, others to plead guilty. What are they hoping for?
SMITH: Well, they're hoping for a lighter sentence. Huffman has accepted responsibility for what she did. She's unequivocally apologized, which counts - that counts in her favor. And she has said she has deep regret and shame, and especially she's sorry for the students who work hard every day to get into college and their parents who support them honestly, she said.
So for her, prosecutors are recommending $20,000 in fines and a four-month sentence. She could end up with even less than that, even - maybe even at a halfway house. In Devin Sloane's case where much more money changed hands, the government's recommending a year in prison and $75,000 in fines.
CORNISH: What's different about the cases of those who are pleading not guilty to similar charges?
SMITH: Well, some might be taking the position that they didn't think they were doing anything wrong, that they didn't realize the extent of it. They may think they can win the case despite all the evidence against them. They could still change their pleas to guilty, though after they didn't take a deal at the beginning, they were hit with a second charge, so they're automatically facing stiffer sentences.
CORNISH: Should we expect to hear more charges?
SMITH: Yes, definitely. From the beginning, prosecutors have said this is the tip of the iceberg. We know there are some folks who are nervously waiting for the other shoe or shoes to drop now. For example, prosecutors mentioned one instance of a $6 1/2 million payoff, and we have yet to see charges of that.
We also understand that prosecutors may now also be targeting some students as well, and they are going forward with their investigation with the help now of some cooperating defendants. So that will likely be valuable to the government.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Tovia Smith reporting from Boston. Tovia, thank you.
SMITH: Thank you.
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