Parents could face tax charges, big fines in admissions scam (copy)

Agustin Huneeus, a 53-year-old San Francisco resident whose family owns vineyards in California's Napa Valley and in Oregon, leaves the federal courthouse in Boston after a hearing associated with the college admissions bribery scandal. 

Napa Valley vintner Agustin Francisco Huneeus has asked a federal judge in Boston for only a two-month prison term, much more lenient than the 15 months prosecutors recommended the judge give him when he appears in court Friday to receive his punishment for the role he played in the college admissions bribery scandal.

Huneeus made the request for leniency in court papers filed last week, writing to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani that he wants “to pay my dues and feel clean again” and that he knows “this experience will define the rest of my life and it’s up to me whether it will define me in a good or bad way.”

Huneeus, a 53-year-old San Francisco resident, pleaded guilty in May to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for his participation in a nationwide scheme in which wealthy parents — including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — paid bribes to get their children admitted to elite colleges.

Prosecutors alleged Huneeus worked with a key figure in the scheme in which he agreed to pay $50,000 to a corrupt test proctor to allow his daughter to cheat on her SAT exam, then another $250,000 to help her gain admission at University of Southern California as a water polo recruit on scholarship, even though she wasn’t qualified to play at the collegiate level. His daughter, a former student at Marin Academy, received conditional acceptance from USC on Nov. 7, 2018. He actually paid $100,000 before the scheme unraveled.

After his arrest in March, Huneeus stepped down as owner and operator of Napa-based Huneeus Vintners, which owns the Quintessa brand, as well as Flowers Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg. He relinquished control to his 86-year-old father, Agustin C. Huneeus, who had retired from the wine empire that he created as a Chilean immigrant who previously had operated global wine brands.

Talwani will decide the sentence Huneeus deserves for his crime in a case that has triggered strong reactions from many Americans across the nation.

The scandal intersects with privilege, wealth and celebrity amid the incredible competition among high school students to gain admission into top U.S. colleges. Prosecutors have noted in a court filing last month the case has been a “kind of Rorschach test for middle class angst about college admissions.”

Last month, Talwani sentenced Huffman to 14 days in jail. Like Huneeus, Huffman was one of 11 individuals who already have pleaded guilty rather than go to trial and are included in this latest round of sentencings. But Huffman was on the low end of the sentencing recommendations from federal prosecutors, while Huneeus and another co-defendant, Stephen Semprevivo, are on the high end. About 50 people overall were charged.

Prosecutors contend that Huneeus’ actions went well beyond the others in the bribery scheme, especially because he was involved in the SAT exam cheating, as well as the admissions bribery over a full two-year period.

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