LOS ANGELES -- One day in December 2017 actress Felicity Huffman was driving her daughter to take the SAT while keeping a secret from her.
The high-school student had no idea her mother had paid $15,000 for someone to falsify the results.
"It felt like I had to give my daughter a chance at a future," Huffman recalls. "And so it was sort of like my daughter's future, which meant I had to break the law."
In an exclusive interview with our sister station KABC-TV in Los Angeles, the Oscar nominee is speaking for the first time about her participation in what would become a national scandal involving dozens of wealthy parents and a college-admission consultant who used fraudulent means to help get their kids into college.
Huffman recalls having second thoughts and anxiety about her actions as she drove her daughter to take the test that day.
"She was going, 'Can we get ice cream afterwards?'" Huffman recalls. "I'm scared about the test. What can we do that's fun? And I kept thinking, turn around, just turn around. And to my undying shame, I didn't."
Once college-admission consultant Rick Singer's activities were discovered by investigators, 33 wealthy parents faced federal charges in Operation Varsity Blues. They were accused of conspiring to use bribery and fraud to get their kids into top colleges. Besides Huffman, two of the most prominent names were actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli.
Singer served as their middleman, receiving millions of dollars to help inflate test scores and even bribe school officials. He would eventually cooperate with the investigation, providing evidence against many of the parents he had assisted.
In January 2023, Singer was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison plus ordered to forfeit $10 million.
The "Desperate Housewives" star says she didn't reach out to Singer - who came highly recommended - intending to break the law. It took some time before he revealed his scheme.
"After a year, he started to say your daughter is not going to get into any of the colleges that she wants to," Huffman says.
It felt like I would be a bad mother if I didn't do it. So I did it.
"And I believed him. And so when he slowly started to present the criminal scheme, it seems like - and I know this seems crazy at the time - but that was my only option to give my daughter a future."
"And 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."
Months later, the FBI was at her door.
"They came into my home. They woke my daughters up at gunpoint. Again, nothing new to the Black and brown community. Then they put my hands behind my back and handcuffed me and I asked if I could get dressed."
She was stunned. The scene seemed unreal.
"I thought it was a hoax. I literally turned to one of the FBI people, in a flak jacket and a gun, and I went, is this a joke?"
In May 2019, Huffman pleaded guilty to federal charges. She served 11 days in prison, paid a $30,000 fine and performed community service.
She also apologized.
"I think the people I owe a debt and apology to is the academic community. And to the students and the families that sacrifice and work really hard to get to where they are going legitimately."
So why is she coming forward now, four years after serving her time?
"I want to use my experience and what I've gone through and the pain to bring something good, which is to shine a light on Susan Burton's organization called A New Way of Life."
Established in 1998, the nonprofit helps formerly incarcerated women get back on their feet by providing housing, clothing, job training and, above all, safety.
It's where Huffman did her court-ordered community service.
"I said, I'm here to apply to work but I understand if you don't want me. And Susan looked at me and said (expletive) yeah, I want you!"
Burton recalls Huffman came ready to work.
"Well, I thought we would bring her in and put her at a desk and have her work in the office," Burton says. "And she said, no. I want to do real work. And she just organized all of our closets and donations. She went jogging down Central Avenue in South LA and created exercise classes for the women."
When Huffman's 250 hours of community service were up, she stayed on - and joined the organization's board of directors.
"When I saw what A New Way of Life was doing, which is they heal one woman at a time - and if you heal one woman, you heal her children, you heal her grandchildren and you heal the community."
Burton adds: "Felicity Huffman is one of the most beautiful people I've met in my lifetime. And I know she has had a hiccup. But it's not the hiccup - it's how you come through the hiccup."
Huffman has been married to actor William H. Macy since 1997. They have two daughters. Macy did not face any charges in connection with Operation Varsity Blues.
Huffman's daughter was turned down by every college she applied to during the scandal. Then she re-took the SAT and earned her way in to Carnegie Mellon University, where she's in the drama program.
A New Way of Life is always looking for donations, especially with the holidays coming. You can find their site here.