BOSTON — They have been expelled from schools, haunted by nightmares and panic attacks, whispered about by classmates, and mocked online. For the young people whose parents were charged in the nation’s largest college admissions cheating scandal, society’s punishment came swiftly, often before their parents had their cases heard in court.
While Sophia Macy, a daughter of the actors Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, was flying to Juilliard for a final round of auditions for admission to the performing arts school, officials sent her an email withdrawing the invitation. “She called us from the airport in hysterics,” Macy wrote to a judge last year, as Huffman was being sentenced for arranging cheating on her daughter’s SAT test. “From the devastation of that day, Sophia is slowly regaining her equilibrium and getting on with her life.”
Twenty parents, including Huffman, have pleaded guilty in the sweeping scandal, which prosecutors say involved cheating on college admissions exams and bribing coaches to get children admitted to elite schools as athletic recruits based on false credentials. Many have been sentenced to penalties ranging from probation to nine months in prison. Fifteen other parents, including actress Lori Loughlin, have pleaded not guilty and appear headed to trial, possibly this year.
Most of the parents — even those whose cases have yet to be decided — have faced consequences outside the courtroom: They lost high-paying jobs, had professional licenses suspended or investigated, or were publicly shamed as examples of greed and bad parenting.
But since the case was announced a year ago, far less has been heard from the children of those involved in the scandal, many of whom were on the cusp of going to college or were already enrolled. No students were criminally charged, and prosecutors have said that many of them were unaware of the actions their parents had taken to try to get them admitted to top schools. Still, some of them have faced penalties as well.
Almost immediately after arrests were announced last March, colleges opened investigations into students with ties to the scandal. Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Northwestern and the University of Southern California each expelled students or revoked students’ admissions. Some students who were seniors in high school when their parents were arrested had their college applications denied or were forced to withdraw them.
Others were admitted to colleges not tied to the cheating scheme, and some students who were already in college were investigated and allowed to stay.
Matteo Sloane, whose father admitted to paying $250,000 to secure his admission as a water polo recruit, is still enrolled at USC. (A lawyer for the father, Devin Sloane, declined to comment on whether the school had disciplined his son.) Matteo Sloane told The Wall Street Journal that it was hard to find out that his father had intervened in the admissions process.
“It kind of takes the value away of the work I did to get there in the first place,” he said.
“I was mad,” he said, “and then it kind of transformed into me feeling sorry for him.”
It has been less clear how high schools have treated families ensnared in the scandal. But a recent filing by lawyers for Michelle Janavs, a philanthropist whose father and uncle invented Hot Pockets, a microwaveable sandwich, offered one school’s response.
When Janavs, an heiress to the Hot Pockets fortune, was arrested last year, her two daughters were in their junior and senior years at Sage Hill School, a private school in Newport Coast, California. Janavs was on Sage Hill’s board, as was another parent charged in the case, Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of the bond giant Pimco. The school quickly announced the resignations of Janavs and Hodge.
According to Janavs’ lawyers, Sage Hill also banned her daughters from campus and events like graduation and prom, allowing them to complete the year’s work at home and allowing the older girl to receive a diploma. The lawyers wrote that the girls “were shunned by friends, teachers, and classmates.”
A spokeswoman for the school declined to comment, citing student privacy.
Janavs was sentenced Tuesday to five months in prison after she pleaded guilty to two counts: money laundering conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud.
Janavs acknowledged paying a college consultant $100,000 to secure inflated scores on her daughters’ ACT exams. She also has acknowledged agreeing to pay $200,000 so that her older daughter would be admitted to USC as a recruit in women’s beach volleyball, a sport she did not play competitively.
It appears from court filings that Janavs’ younger daughter was unaware that her mother was cheating on the ACT on her behalf, by paying for a corrupt proctor to correct her answers. It is not clear from court filings what the older daughter knew, and Janavs’ lawyers declined to comment.
The older daughter, who had been conditionally accepted to USC as an athlete, had that acceptance rescinded and was barred from applying again, the lawyers said. She is now enrolled in a community college, the lawyers said, while Janavs’ younger daughter has enrolled in a public high school.
In a letter to the judge, Janavs’ husband, Paul Janavs, said FBI agents had handcuffed the two girls as they stood outside, barefoot in their pajamas, when Michelle Janavs was arrested in March.
“While this has been excruciatingly painful and devastating for Michelle, it has been equally painful for our family,” he wrote. “There have been too many days during the past eleven months during which I held both of my daughters in my arms as they cried out of a broad combination of emotions including anger at their mother, sorrow and great anxiety about her fate.”
Other parents have described how much their children have struggled.
The wife of Agustin Huneeus, a Bay Area winemaker who pleaded guilty to participating in both the test cheating and bribery schemes, wrote in a letter to the judge sentencing her husband that her four daughters had suffered from panic attacks since they saw their father arrested.
Macarena Huneeus, the wife, said that one daughter not connected to the cheating had nonetheless faced hostility from teachers and students at her high school. Another daughter — who prosecutors have said was aware that her father had paid a proctor to correct her answers on the SAT — had a very difficult year but had been resilient, Macarena Huneeus said. She retook the SAT and started “at a great college” last fall, she said.
In another case, Jack Buckingham, whose mother, Jane Buckingham, pleaded guilty to paying a consultant to get him an inflated score on the ACT, had already been admitted to Southern Methodist University when his mother was arrested. He spoke to the school, which allowed him to enroll based on his authentic scores from a previous administration of the test.
He sent a statement last March to The Hollywood Reporter, saying in part: “I know there are millions of kids out there both wealthy and less fortunate who grind their ass off just to have a shot at the college of their dreams. I am upset that I was unknowingly involved in a large scheme that helps give kids who may not work as hard as others an advantage over those who truly deserve those spots.”
Several students lost chances to go to elite schools.
Loughlin’s two daughters were enrolled at USC when Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were arrested on charges of conspiring to pay $500,000 in bribes to get the girls admitted to USC as crew recruits. Neither girl is enrolled now. The younger daughter, Olivia Jade, who had a lucrative career as a social media influencer before the scandal broke, addressed the situation in a YouTube video she posted in early December after a hiatus of more than eight months.
In the video, shot in a bedroom, she wrung her hands as she spoke haltingly, acknowledging that she had been “gone for a really long time” and saying that “as much as I wish I could talk about all of this” she was “legally not allowed to speak on anything going on right now.”
“I genuinely miss filming,” she said, adding that she felt like “a huge part of me” was not the same.
“Thank you so much for your patience, or if you’ve stuck around for nine months just waiting, I really appreciate it,” she said. “This is the best I can do, and I want to move on with my life.”