Wealthy parents who admitted to taking part in the biggest college admissions scandal in U.S. history must go to prison, if only for a matter of months, the Justice Department said, rejecting their proposals for alternative punishments a week before the first sentencing.

The actor Felicity Huffman, among the most prominent parents caught in the government’s sting, should serve one month behind bars and pay a $20,000 fine for hiring the scam’s leader to boost her older daughter’s SAT score, federal prosecutors said in a court filing yesterday. Huffman will face a judge on Friday.

Home confinement for the parents “would be a penological joke conjuring images of defendants padding around impressive homes,” and community service is “too easily co-opted for its ‘PR’ value,” according to the sentencing recommendations from the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts.

“For wrongdoing that is predicated on wealth and rationalized by a sense of privilege, incarceration is the only leveler: in prison everyone is treated the same, dressed the same, and intermingled regardless of affluence, position or fame,” prosecutors told the court in the memo.

The government “got what they wanted with Felicity Huffman,” said Brad Simon, a former federal prosecutor in New York who is now a partner at Phillips Nizer LLP and isn’t involved in the case. “They got an early guilty plea from a high-profile celebrity, and now they’re going to claim a big victory if she gets a sentence of one month in jail or less.”

Huffman, who won an Emmy for her work in the ABC hit “Desperate Housewives” and a Golden Globe for the movie “Transamerica,” was “deliberate and manifestly criminal” in her dealings with the corrupt college counselor and ringleader William “Rick” Singer, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani in the filing. Huffman’s daughter got a 1420 out of 1600 on the SAT, an improvement of about 400 points over the preliminary SAT she took on her own a year earlier.

Huffman’s defense attorneys said in their own filing Friday that the actor is “deeply remorseful” and deserves probation and 250 hours of community service rather than prison time.

Federal sentencing guidelines, which judges consult in meting out punishment, are driven by the dollar amounts of economic harm. If the sum is relatively low -- in Huffman’s case, $15,000, compared to hundreds of thousands of dollars for some other parents -- it could mean a minimal term. Huffman’s lawyers argued she should face as little as no prison time at all.

“What I think is happening is they’re recognizing that the judge is not going to give her much time,” Simon said.

Neither a lawyer for Huffman nor the U.S. attorney’s office responded to requests for comment on the filing.

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