To this day, Felicity Huffman can still remember how desperate she felt.
When eldest daughter Sophia, now 23, was eyeing colleges, the Desperate Housewives alum found herself growing increasingly more nervous as producer Rick Singer outlined the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts student's chances of getting into a prestigious university.
"After a year, he started to say your daughter is not going to get into any of the colleges that she wants to," Huffman recently explained to ABC-7 Eye Witness News, speaking for the first time about her role in the infamous 2019 college admissions scandal that led to her 11-day stint in prison. "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 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."
And, yes, she continued to second-guess her choice—even as she was driving her teen to take the SAT, the results of which Huffman paid $15,000 to have falsified, per court documents viewed by E! News at the time.
"She was going, 'Can we get ice cream afterwards?'" recalled the 60-year-old, who shares Sophia and younger sister Georgia, 21, with husband of 26 years William H. Macy. "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."
Reflecting on the March 2019 day the FBI showed up at their Hollywood Hills home, she revealed, "They woke my daughters up at gunpoint. Then they put my hands behind my back and handcuffed me and I asked if I could get dressed. 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?"
Of course, it wasn't.
As the Oscar nominee swiftly worked her way through the legal system, pleading guilty to charges of mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, she faced the ridicule head-on. "People assume that I went into this looking for a way to cheat the system and making proverbial criminal deals in back alleys," she said, "but that was not the case."
Ultimately, she found herself convinced that "I had to give my daughter a chance at a future. And so it was sort of like my daughter's future, which meant I had to break the law."
And now that her girls have secured their bright futures—Sophia is a theater student at Carnegie Mellon University, while Georgia is set to graduate from Vassar College in 2024—Huffman is ready to follow suit.
She agreed to the sit-down as a way of highlighting A New Way of Life, a nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women by providing housing, clothing, job training and safety. After working with the organization to serve her court-ordered community service, she now sits on their board of directors.
"They heal one woman at a time," Huffman explained, "and if you heal one woman, you heal her children, you heal her grandchildren and you heal the community."
Such rehabilitation remains her goal as she eyes new career opportunities.
"I think the people I owe a debt and apology to is the academic community," she added. "And to the students and the families that sacrifice and work really hard to get to where they are going legitimately."
Of course, Huffman is hardly the first Hollywood resident to create headlines. Reflect back on these major celebrity scandals.