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While advocating that actress Felicity Huffman serve jail time for her role in a college cheating scandal, a prosecutor cited the sentence handed down to an Ohio single mother, who spent nine days in jail after falsifying a home address so that her children could attend school in a better district.
"If a poor single mom from Akron who is actually trying to provide a better education for her kids should go to jail, there is no reason that a wealthy mother with the resources should not also go to jail,” Eric Rosen said to U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani at Friday's sentencing.
Rosen also told the judge that court-ordered community service was not an appropriate sentence for Huffman because it was not a punishment.
Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying a college consultant $15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT score. Her sentence also included a $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service and a year’s probation.
The “Desperate Housewives” star was sentenced in Boston’s federal court after pleading guilty in May to a single count of conspiracy and fraud.
Huffman is the first to receive a punishment of the nearly three dozen wealthy parents charged in the sweeping scheme.
Her case has highlighted longstanding disparities in the justice system. Even before she was sentenced, many suspected that Huffman would receive a lighter punishment than poor and nonwhite defendants convicted of similar crimes.
Some advocates for criminal justice reform argued that the real problem is that people of all income levels get too much prison time.
"I get why everyone gets mad when rich person X gets a short sentence and poor person of color Y gets a long one," singer John Legend tweeted Saturday. The answer is for both the poor and rich to get less time behind bars, he said.
Prosecutors at Huffman's sentencing hearing on Friday, in arguing that the actress should serve jail time, cited the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, an African American single mother from Akron, Ohio. She was convicted of two felony crimes in January 2011 and jailed for nine days after she falsified documents so she could enroll her daughters in a neighboring, higher-performing school district.
Williams-Bolar used her father’s home address as her own in 2009 so that her daughters, who were 9 and 12, could attend school in the Copley Fairlawn School District, an affluent, mostly white school district.
“I wanted them to have a good start in life,” Williams-Bolar told “Today“ in March. “I wanted to send them to one of the best schools. What I did was not in the best interest of my daughters.”
Williams-Bolar was found guilty of records tampering. John Kasich, a Republican and former Ohio governor, reduced Williams-Bolar's convictions to misdemeanors.
She has said she was unaware she was breaking any laws.
Her case sparked debate on the disparity in the academic quality of school systems.
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Williams-Bolar told “Today” she felt a mix of emotions when she learned Huffman was charged in the college cheating scandal.
“They already had so much and just wanted more,” she said.
While the socioeconomic backdrop is completely different, Williams-Bolar said she also felt that she could relate — as a mother.
“Mothers want good education for their kids," she said. "That’s what we have in common."