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Agustin Francisco Huneeus Scheduled to be Sentenced Oct. 4 in College Admissions Scandal

by Kerana Todorov
September 11, 2019

Vintner Agustin Francisco Huneeus should spend 15 months behind bars for his role in the college entrance cheating scandal, federal prosecutors have recommended in a sentencing memorandum.

Huneeus is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 4 under a plea agreement. The Napa Valley Vintner, whose family owns Quintessa, Flowers, Faust and Benton-Lane, was among 40 parents, coaches and others who were arrested and charged in March across the United States in connection with the college cheating scandal.

Huneeus pleaded guilty in May in federal court in Boston on one count of conspiracy to commit “mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Huneeus stepped down from running his family’s business in March, according to the company.

“To ensure smooth operations of Huneeus Vintners, Agustin Huneeus Sr., founder of Huneeus Vintners and Quintessa, was appointed to represent the family’s interest in Huneeus Vintners on March 15,” said Leslie Sullivan, estates director, at Huneeus Vintners. “Agustin Francisco Huneeus Jr. stepped down from his position at that time.”

“Since inception, Huneeus Vintners has been brand led, and our winemaking, vineyard, sales, marketing and management teams will continue to nurture our leading portfolio and build the most exciting fine wine company,” Sullivan said.

Prosecutors said in Friday’s sentencing memorandum they took into account “the extent to which the defendants were ‘repeat players,’ that is, their willingness to engage in defrauding the system more than once.” For instance, they cited Huneeus’ role in both the exam cheating and bogus recruitment schemes.

Huneeus’ recommended 15-month sentence is harsher than the most of the other recommended sentences included in Friday’s memorandum. Prosecutors, for instance, asked that Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman, who paid $15,000 on the college scheme, spend one month behind bars.

The prosecutors also said Huneeus, unlike other defendants, involved their children in the scheme. Huneeus and his daughter had “at least one in-person conversation with Singer, in which they explicitly discussed the athletic recruitment fraud,” according to the memorandum. Huneeus also “instructed his daughter to keep quiet about it,” according to the court filing.

Prosecutors said Huneeus paid $300,000 in bribes to have college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer arrange for his daughter to enter the University of Southern California as a member of the water polo team. That included $50,000 to cheat on the SAT entrance exam and another $250,000 for the college recruitment scheme, according to court filings.

Prosecutors argued prison time for the defendants cited in Friday’s memorandum is necessary. “Some period of incarceration is the only meaningful sanction for these crimes,” they wrote.

“This case is a singular opportunity to assure the general public that the college admissions system – a system millions of Americans rely on each year – will be as level a playing field as the law can realistically make it. The Court should hold these men and women accountable for their callous disregard for others, and for the systemic and individualized harm they caused,” the prosecutors concluded.

In the meantime, California state alcohol regulators continue to follow the case.

“ABC is reviewing the facts of the Huneeus case and has not made a final decision. A licensee who is convicted of a crime of moral turpitude may be subject to administrative disciplinary action including suspension or revocation of the license,” according to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

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