Napa vintner Agustin F. Huneuus enters guilty plea in college admissions case

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A prominent Napa Valley vintner pleaded guilty in Boston federal court Tuesday to charges similar to those dozens of parents are facing in the nationwide college entrance scandal.

Agustin F. Huneeus, whose family owns Huneeus Vintners, is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud related to efforts to get his daughter into University of Southern California.

He originally agreed to plead guilty in April. Under sentencing guidelines, he could face up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors previously recommended a 15-month prison term, financial penalties of $95,000, and 12 months of supervised release.

According to federal prosecutors, he and 13 other parent defendants agreed to enter guilty pleas they conspired with Newport college admissions adviser William Rick Singer, who has been cooperating with federal authorities, and paid large sums to him and his foundation to alter their children’s test scores and in some cases bribed athletics coaches at top schools.

“With my plea today, I am taking full responsibility for my wrongful actions,” Huneeus said in a statement released by Boston public relations agency Solomon McCown & Company. “My life has been devoted to my family and the people I have worked with and for. I have disappointed them all and brought shame on myself and the people I love. While I wish I could go back and make different and better choices, of course I cannot. What I can do now is to say: I am sorry and I apologize. Beyond my circle of family, friends, and colleagues, I also apologize to students who work hard to get into college on their own merit, as well as to their families. Today’s plea was an important step in my effort to take responsibility and accept the consequences for acts that I deeply regret, and I hope that with time and effort I will be able to earn back the respect of the people whose trust I have betrayed.”

Boston federal prosecutors previously alleged Huneeus worked with Singer to falsify one of his daughter’s SAT scores and donated to a fake charity Singer controlled, funds that were then channeled to University of Southern California athletic officials to allow her admission as a water polo recruit.

Huneeus handed the CEO role at Napa Valley wine company Huneeus Vintners to his father, Agustin C. Huneeus, days after charges were filed against him March 12, according to the Press Democrat.

Also pleading guilty in a similar case Tuesday was Gordon Caplan. He was co-chairman of the prominent law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher. The Greenwich, Connecticut, resident was charged with paying $75,000 to get someone to correct the answers on his daughter’s ACT exam after she took it.

Huneeus and Caplan are among 14 parents who have agreed to plead guilty. Actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty last week.

Three other prominent North Bay parents are also facing charges in the case: Bill McGlashan, a Mill Valley resident and former top investor at the private equity firm TPG Capital in San Francisco, and Todd and Diane Blake, of Ross in Marin County.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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