Felicity Huffman pleads guilty; Greenwich lawyer Gordon Caplan up next
As actress Felicity Huffman became the highest-profile parent to officially plead guilty in federal court in the Operation Varsity Blues college-admissions cheating scandal on Monday, Greenwich lawyer Gordon Caplan is awaiting his court date next week.
Caplan will appear in federal court in Boston alongside Napa Valley vintner Agustin Huneeus Jr., another parent indicted in the notorious case in which 50 people charged, to officially enter his guilty plea.
Huffman pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for paying $15,000 to a fake charity for her daughter’s answers to be corrected on her SAT exam. She pleaded alongside parent David Sloane, who paid $250,000 to get his son into University of Southern California as a water polo recruit even though he did not play the sport.
She will be sentenced Sept. 13, but prosecutors recommended Huffman, an Emmy-winning star of “Desperate Housewives,” pay a $20,000 fine and serve four to 10 months behind bars. For Sloane, they recommended he pay a $75,000 fine and spend 12 months and one day in prison when sentenced Sept. 10. The maximum penalty is 20 years in prison.
“My daughter has been seeing a neuropsychologist since she was 8 years old,” Huffman said.
Caplan and Huneeus are scheduled to appear before federal Judge Indira Talwani on May 21. They are expected to plead guilty to the same criminal charges.
After his arrest on March 12, Caplan was accused in federal court documents of paying $75,000 to have a hand-picked proctor oversee an ACT exam taken by his daughter and “correct the answers after she had completed it,” according to federal documents. Prosecutors have recommended he pay a fine of $40,000 and receive a prison sentence “on the low end” of the maximum of 20 years.
Prosecutors allege that Huneeus worked with conspirators who helped one of his daughters cheat on her SAT exam. They accused him of contributing $50,000 to a fake charity that ultimately would go to University of Southern California athletic officials to help her gain admission as a water polo recruit, similar to Sloane’s son.
The Greenwich lawyer apologized in a statement released April 8, the day he announced he will plead guilty.
“I take full and sole responsibility for my conduct and I am deeply ashamed of my behavior and my actions,” Caplan said. “I apologize not only to my family, friends, colleagues and the legal bar, but also to students everywhere who have been accepted to college through their own hard work.”
His daughter is still more than a year away from going to college, and had no idea that he made arrangements to have her ACT test fixed, he said.
“I want to make clear that my daughter, whom I love more than anything in the world, is a high school junior and has not yet applied to college, much less been accepted by any school,” he said. “She had no knowledge whatsoever about my actions, has been devastated to learn what I did and has been hurt the most by it.
“My immediate goal is to focus on making amends for my actions to try to win back the trust and respect of my daughter, my family and my community. The remorse and shame I feel is more than I can convey,” Caplan said in the statement.
He appeared in federal court in Boston in April with others charged in the notorious case, including actress Lori Loughlin, of “Full House,” and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Gianulli.
Caplan remains free on $500,000 bond. He faces a felony conviction, which would mean an automatic disbarment.
Also, Caplan is no longer with Manhattan-based international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, where he was a lawyer and a co-chairman, after he signaled his intention to plead guilty. His firm had already placed him on leave after his arrest in March.
In his court appearance, he told the federal magistrate that he understands the conditions placed on him — no firearms, no using illegal drugs. Caplan, like the other defendants, signed a waiver that he does not have to return to court for the next hearing, and said nothing other than “yes, your honor” and “no, your honor.”
He secured four high-powered attorneys for his defense: Joshua Levy and Michael McGovern of Boston-based international law firm Ropes & Gray, as well as Peter Cane, a regular commentator for Court TV, and Patrick Smith, a former Manhattan federal prosecutor.
Caplan was caught in a cheating scandal centered on William “Rick” Singer and his test-prep business. Federal officials say phone calls between Caplan and Singer were taped between June and December 2018. These wire tappings allege Caplan paid for a California psychologist to evaluate his daughter and conclude she had learning differences and qualified for extra time to take her college entrance exams.
The FBI-wiretapped conversations in which Caplan worked through the scheme with ringleader Singer, according to the court filings.
“I can make scores happen,” Singer told Caplan in one conversation recorded by the FBI in late 2018, released in the criminal complaint. “She (the daughter) won’t even know that it happened.”
Caplan was guided through the process that allowed his daughter, who was attending an online high school, to gain special permission to take an ACT exam with an extended time limit. The ACT exam was also scheduled to take place in West Hollywood, Calif., where an alleged conspirator, a former tennis player at Harvard, Mark Riddell, was enlisted to “proctor” the exam and change wrong answers to give the daughter a high score, federal authorities allege.
In December, Caplan and his daughter flew to California, where she took the ACT at the West Hollywood Test Center. Through Singer, Caplan bribed a proctor to fix some of his daughter’s answers to improve her score, according to the affidavit.