The actress served 11 days in prison in 2019 for her involvement in the nationwide scandal
In an interview with ABC-7 Eyewitness News that aired Thursday, the 60-year-old Desperate Housewives star and Oscar-nominated actress reflected on the criminal conspiracy, in which dozens of wealthy parents of high school students — including celebrity moms like Huffman and Lori Loughlin — were charged with using bribery, cheating and other forms of illegal fraud to fake their kids' way into elite colleges and universities like Yale, USC, and Georgetown.
The scam unraveled thanks, in part, to the government's criminal investigation, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues." Back in 2019, Huffman served 11 days in jail after paying $15,000 to convicted scandal mastermind William "Rick" Singer for the results of her daughter’s SAT exam to be falsified.
Looking back on it, Huffman explained the reasoning that drove her to commit the crime.
"People assume that I went into this looking for a way to cheat the system and making proverbial criminal deals in back alleys, but that was not the case," she said. "I worked with a highly recommended college counselor named Rick Singer. I worked with him for a year and trusted him implicitly; he recommended programs and tutors and he was the expert. And after a year, he started to say, 'Your daughter is not going to get into any of the colleges that she wants to.' And so, I believed him."
She continued, "When he slowly started to present the criminal scheme, it seemed like — and I know this seems crazy at the time — that that was my only option to give my daughter a future. I know hindsight is 20/20 but it felt like I would be a bad mother if I didn't do it. So, I did it.”
"It felt like I had to give my daughter a chance at a future," she said. "And so it was sort of like my daughter's future, which meant I had to break the law."
The actress — who says she did not tell her daughter Sophia about her plans — recalled having second thoughts about what she had done as she drove her to the exam. "She was going, 'Can we get ice cream afterwards? I'm scared about the test. What can we do that's fun?’ And I kept thinking, 'Turn around, just turn around,' " Huffman told the news outlet. "To my undying shame, I didn't."
Huffman pleaded guilty to paying to have a proctor change her daughter Sophia's answers in the exam. At the time of sentencing in September 2019, Huffman wrote to a judge to protest that she was only thinking about her daughter’s future when she participated in the scheme.
“I keep asking myself, 'Why did I do this? Why did I say yes to a scheme of breaking the law and compromising my integrity? What interior forces drove me to do it? How could I abandon my own moral compass and common sense?' " she wrote in a letter obtained by PEOPLE at the time.
She served 11 days of her 14-day prison sentence in October 2019. The star was also sentenced to 250 hours of community service and was on supervised release for one year. Huffman completed her full sentence by October 2020.
Her husband, Shameless star William H. Macy, was not charged in relation to the event. Her daughter Sophia later retook the SAT and was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University's theatre program, where she is currently studying.
Meanwhile, Singer was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for his crimes. He was ordered to forfeit $10 million in January of this year.
Singer orchestrated the scheme using two college prep businesses he operated: Key Worldwide Foundation and The Edge College & Career Network. Through his businesses, he helped clients gain admission to colleges through deceitful methods like paying off test proctors and bribing college administrators and athletic coaches, a sentencing memo obtained by PEOPLE stated.
As part of his scheme, Singer raked in more than $25 million from his clients, while also paying bribes of more than $7 million, according to the memo. "We help the wealthiest families in the U.S. get their kids in school," Singer was once heard boasting on a client call recorded by the FBI. "They want guarantees, they want this thing done."
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As for Huffman, she's speaking out now to shine a light on A New Way of Life, the nonprofit that provides aid like housing, job training, and clothing to formerly incarcerated women.
"I want to use my experience and what I've gone through and the pain to bring something good," she told ABC-7 of the organization, where she did her court-ordered community service.
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