The ABC television series “Desperate Housewives” became a huge comedy hit largely because of the exaggerated ways it depicted suburban families trying to get ahead. In one episode, star Felicity Huffman was led away in handcuffs by police as her daughter watched from an upstairs window.
In real life, seven federal agents, guns drawn, arrested Huffman at her Hollywood Hills, California, home Tuesday in connection with a massive fraud investigation. Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 to a bogus charity that helped fake her daughter’s SAT scores.
The scam exemplifies the ways parents can lose sight of the moral and legal boundaries in their obsession with helping their children succeed. Good parents know when it’s time to stand back and let their kids fail. Among the worst examples of parenting is using positions of status, privilege and wealth to help already-privileged kids get an extra boost. Throw bribe and fraud into the mix and such parents deserve the toughest criminal penalties the justice system can mete out.
At least 33 well-heeled parents, including Huffman, “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were among 50 people arrested in a bribery and cheating scam aimed at getting children of privilege into top universities.
Instead of teaching their children how to succeed through hard work and talent, court documents say the parents purchased services to artificially inflate scores on their children’s college entrance exams. Others bribed university officials into affirming fictitious backgrounds that allowed applicants to qualify for admission as top-tier athletes.
The scam’s mastermind, William Rick Singer, stated that he had worked with 761 families. It appears the children involved were unaware of the $25 million scam and believed their admissions and test scores were legitimate. Their fraud-tainted admissions meant other more worthy students didn’t get in.
This scam offers a taste of the privileges enjoyed by the wealthy for decades, using donations and “legacy” status to push their kids to the top of admissions lists. A $2.5 million donation pledge to Harvard in 1998 by Charles Kushner was followed shortly afterward by the admission of his son, Jared, to that elite university. Jared Kushner is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.
In a 2014 interview as Huffman was launching her new parenting website, What The Flicka, the actor admitted struggling with the balance between being the classic good mother — nurturing, self-sacrificing — with the professional woman/feminist persona of being “driven” with an attitude of, “I’m gonna win; other people are gonna lose.” She apparently chose the latter.
Those who participated in this scam deserve no mercy from the courts and must not be allowed — as people of privilege so often are — to buy their way out of tough sentencing. Impressionable kids with real qualifications — and their hard-working parents — are watching.