Winebusiness.com - Homepage for the Wine Industry

Agustin Francisco Huneeus Sentenced to Five Months for Role in College Entrance Cheating Scandal

by Kerana Todorov
October 04, 2019

A U.S. federal judge in Boston on Friday sentenced vintner Agustin Francisco Huneeus to five months in prison for his role in the college entrance cheating scandal. Huneeus, the fourth parent to be sentenced in the scheme, received the lengthiest sentence of those who have been sentenced so far.

U.S. prosecutors had sought 15 months for the vintner, one of more than 30 parents charged in March in connection with the “Varsity Blues” scandal. His attorneys had sought two months.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also ordered Huneeus to pay a $100,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service. He will also spend two years under supervised release.

A representative issued a statement from Huneeus after the verdict. It read, in part:

“Today is a hard day. But after you sentence me the rest of my life begins. I want to pay for my crime and atone for the harm I have caused.”

“The consequences of my actions to those closest to me have been devastating. The public shame and notoriety I have thrust upon them has impacted them all. I have damaged and humiliated my family. My friends and the amazing people I had the privilege to work with in our business are all victims of my actions. I have harmed and disappointed everyone who loved me or cared about me. I am sorry and I will do better.”

In March, the FBI stormed into Huneeus’ San Francisco house to arrest the vintner for paying thousands of dollars in bribes to college counselor Rick Singer in order to have one of his four daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as a water polo athlete. Huneeus subsequently pleaded guilty to mail fraud. Singer, of Newport Beach, Calif., cooperated with federal prosecutors in the “Varsity Blues” operation He has pleaded guilty to four charges.

Prosecutors charged that Huneeus involved his daughter in the scheme. He ordered the teen to stay quiet about it, telling her to have a “keep-your-strap-shut mentality,” according to court records.

Huneeus paid Singer $50,000 to have a proctor correct his daughter’s SAT answers, prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum. Huneeus paid another $50,000 to a USC account and was arrested before he sent the final $200,000 to Singer. His daughter was not accepted into the school, according to court records.

Friends, relatives, winery leaders and employees sent letters to Talwani to ask for leniency, including Richard Sands, executive vice chairman at Constellation Brands Inc. They portrayed Huneeus as a devoted father to his four daughters and caring employer.

His mother, Valeria Huneeus, wrote Judge Talwani that her son may not work in the wine industry for as long as 10 years. He has “endured a massive blow and feels an enormous amount of remorse; he has borne the pain of his daughters and he has lost the prestige and respect that he spent years building in the wine business,” she wrote. “Your honor, I beg for mercy in understanding that Augustin Francisco has learned a very hard lesson and I truly believe he will contribute to building a better and more humane society as a result. Already his life and outlook have been forever altered by this life-changing experience."

Agustin Huneeus stepped down as head of his family’s company in March. His 86-year-old father, Agustin Huneeus Sr., founder of Huneeus Vintners' brand Quintessa, was appointed on March 15 to lead the family’s interests, according to the company. His father did not write the judge.

John Carr, spokesman for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said “Agustin Huneeus Jr. has been removed from all management and operational roles of Huneeus Vintners LLC.”

“ABC is working with the current licensee to ensure compliance and to transfer their licenses in a timely and orderly fashion,” Carr said in a written statement. The listed licensee is “Huneeus Vintners LLC.”

The action is being taken, Carr said, “because Mr. Huneeus Jr. pleaded guilty to a crime of moral turpitude.”

Statement of Agustin Francisco Huneeus in Court on 10-4-19:

Today is a hard day. But after you sentence me the rest of my life begins. I want to pay for my crime and atone for the harm I have caused.

The consequences of my actions to those closest to me have been devastating. The public shame and notoriety I have thrust upon them has impacted them all. I have damaged and humiliated my family. My friends and the amazing people I had the privilege to work with in our business are all victims of my actions. I have harmed and disappointed everyone who loved me or cared about me. I am sorry and I will do better.

Every spot in every college is important to our society. Nothing has a larger impact on income inequality and social mobility than a college education. Millions of kids apply to college ever year and top colleges can accept just a tiny percentage of them. And many of these spots are reserved for donors, athletes and legacies so the odds are even tougher for most.

I am deeply ashamed of myself for taking part in a scheme that could have taken a deserving student’s future away. My actions threatened to disadvantage the very people the system was already stacked against.

I deserve the consequences of my actions and whatever sentence you decide today. I will use my time to figure out how to come back and have an impact for good to those I have harmed. I will commit to you today and all my friends and family that have stood by me that I will get out and work to redeem myself in the eyes of society. Only when I achieve this will I regain my self-worth and be worthy of the respect of my friends and family again.


Copyright© 1994-2019 by Wine Communications Group. All Rights Reserved. Copyright protection extends to all written material, graphics, backgrounds and layouts. None of this material may be reproduced for any reason without written permission of the Publisher. Wine Business Insider, Wine Business Monthly, Grower & Cellar News and Wine Market News are all trademarks of Wine Communications Group and will be protected to the fullest extent of the law.