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On Tuesday, Felicity Huffman was among dozens of boldfaced names implicated in a sprawling college admissions and testing scheme unveiled by federal prosecutors. According to the criminal complaint, the Desperate Housewives star paid a “purported charitable contribution of $15,000” to a nonprofit called Key Worldwide Foundation, which was actually meant “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter.” (The court document alleges that Huffman also tried to use the same scam for her younger daughter, but ultimately decided not to.)
For her part in the racket, Huffman has been charged with felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. However, in the wake of the actress’s arrest, one wrinkle has emerged: Huffman is very famously married to fellow Oscar nominee William H. Macy, who also seems to have been embroiled in the scheme. The actor is not named in the complaint — he’s listed only as “spouse” — and unlike his wife, he has not been charged with a crime. Why did the long arm of the law only apprehend one half of Filliam H. Muffman?
Based on court documents, there seems to be little doubt that Macy was an active participant in the fraud. A cooperating witness, referred to as CW-1, allegedly met with Huffman and Macy at their Los Angeles home sometime before a December 2017 SAT exam. According to the complaint, this witness “explained, in substance, how the college entrance exam scheme worked.”
“According to CW-1, he advised Huffman and her spouse that he ‘controlled’ a testing center, and could arrange for a third party to purport to proctor their daughter’s SAT and secretly correct her answers afterwards. CW-1 has advised investigators that Huffman and her spouse agreed to the plan,” the document alleges.
The complaint also claims that Macy was on a December 12, 2018, call with Huffman and the cooperating witness to discuss their younger daughter possibly taking the SAT over a two-day period.
“Do we want two days?” Macy allegedly asked this witness, later saying, “She’ll score higher. Just her base score will be higher if we did it over two days.”
The Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to say why the Shameless actor isn’t facing charges. However, several legal experts talked to Vulture about why a spouse might not be charged in this type of situation.
“There are a couple of different possibilities. One of the possibilities is that the husband is far less culpable,” explained Rebecca Roiphe, a New York Law School professor and former prosecutor. “Maybe it’s possible that the government has far more evidence than it’s laid out here, and in this evidence, that Huffman played a far more significant role than her husband.”
Why was Macy kept (semi-)anonymous in the complaint? Roiphe explained that when a conspirator isn’t named, it could be evidence that they had cooperated with the investigation. Or prosecutors could simply not be ready to charge them yet. (On Tuesday afternoon, Macy turned up in court alongside his lawyer.)
Veteran criminal attorney Murray Richman expressed similar views.
“If there’s no active participation in the wrongdoing, the spouse will not be charged,” he explained. “Mere knowledge, even with the presence, does not constitute criminal conduct.”
“Or, if there is insufficient evidence to necessarily link that spouse to criminal [activity], they will not be charged if it’s mere allegations unsubstantiated with significant proof,” Richman said.
In this kind of situation, Richman said that if prosecutors mention a spouse, but don’t charge the spouse, he or she could still be “an unindicted co-conspirator.”
A former federal prosecutor also told Vulture that the alleged misconduct involving their second daughter might be too vague to bring charges against Macy.
“Just based on their conversation, there’s not enough proof to show he had any knowledge it was illegal,” he said. “Based only on the conversations, the second one, there is also an innocent explanation what he was saying and ultimately, they agree not to do it.”
As for whether the couple’s daughters (who are 19 and 17) would be in legal jeopardy, the former prosecutor also said it would be unlikely for a minor to get charged in this type of scheme, especially “if the parent shields the child from what’s going on.”
“The standards and requirements for the Department of Justice to indict people under 18 are pretty high,” he said.
The couple’s joint publicist did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Huffman’s agent’s office also deferred a request for comment to the publicist.
In an interview with Parade in January, Macy called his daughter’s college admissions process “so stressful,” adding, “I am voting that once she gets accepted, she maybe takes a year off.”