Napa vintner sentenced to 5 months in prison in college admissions fraud scheme

A Napa Valley vintner was sentenced to 5 months in federal prison on Friday for his role in a widespread college admissions fraud scheme uncovered by prosecutors earlier this year, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani handed the sentence to Agustin Huneeus Jr., 53, of San Francisco at a hearing in Boston on Friday afternoon.

Originally from Chile, Huneeus operates Huneeus Wines, which distributes several wine brands such as Quintessa, Illumination and Faust. He pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy in May for agreeing to pay $300,000 to have his daughter’s SAT score improved and have her fraudulently recruited to the University of Southern California as a water polo star. He was charged as part of a widespread criminal complaint filed in Boston against 33 wealthy parents and officials at nine universities alleging that the parents bribed officials to fraudulently get their children accepted into prestigious universities. The parents included actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin and several wealthy Bay Area residents.

The scheme was operated by college consultant William Singer, who pleaded guilty to four felonies in March and faces up to 65 years in prison. Huneeus asked for a sentence of two months, arguing in a sentencing memo that his sentence should be mitigated because his daughter was never accepted to the university so she never took a spot from a more deserving student. But she was expected to receive her acceptance letter in late March and only didn’t because her father was charged before it could arrive.

“This has been the most consequential experience I have ever had to overcome and it is self-inflicted,” Huneeus wrote in a letter to the court. “I know this experience will define the rest of my life and it’s up to me whether it will define me in a good or bad way.”

Prosecutors asked for a harsher sentence of 15 months in prison. He is the fifth parent to be sentenced in the scheme, including Huffman, who received a sentence of one month. Several other Bay Area families have entered guilty please, including packaged food entrepreneur Peter Artorio of Menlo Park, jewelry business owner Marjorie Klapper of Menlo Park, and Bruce and Davina Isackson of Hillsborough.

The scandal has received widespread attention and prompted the state government to reform the college admissions process.

Also on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed three bills into law that would prevent anyone found guilty in the admissions scandal from taking tax deductions from charities involved, require state universities to report if any applicants received preferential treatment because of their relationships to donors or alumni, and to otherwise strengthen university admission systems.

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