Prison sentence for Napa winemaker in college admissions scandal

Agustin F Huneeus, former CEO of Huneeus Vintners, has been sentenced to five months in prison after admitting to fraudulently trying to get his daughter into the University of Southern California.

Huneeus paid $50,000 to inflate his daughter’s college entrance exam results and promised another $250,000 in a bid to get her fraudulently enroled at the University of Southern California (USC) via its water polo team, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Alongside the five-month prison sentence, he must pay a $100,000 fine, do 500 hours of community service and will face two years of supervised release once his sentence is served, said district judge Indira Talwani at a court hearing in Boston.

It is one of the toughest penalties handed out in the wider US college admissions scandal.

Government prosecutors had sought a 15-month jail term for the 53-year-old winemaker, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Huneeus stepped down from his role as CEO of family business Huneeus Vintners earlier this year, in light of the charges. His father and wine industry veteran Agustin C Huneeus founded the business, which includes Quintessa Estate in Napa Valley.

The District Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said that Agustin F Huneeus conspired with one of the central figures of the admissions scandal, William Rick Singer, to fix his daughter’s college entrance exam, or ‘SAT’.

This included organising the test a centre in West Hollywood that Singer ‘controlled’.

Singer ran a college preparation service and has pleaded guilty to several charges, including money laundering and racketeering conspiracy, and agreed to cooperate with the police investigation.

Huneeus paid $50,000 to a purported charity run by Singer and named Key Worldwide Foundation, said the District Attorney’s Office.

But, it said that Huneeus wasn’t happy with the results and subsequently arranged for Singer to fabricate his daughter’s profile as a water polo athlete. She was subsequently given a conditional offer to enrol at USC as a water polo player.

Huneeus had agreed to pay $250,000, but police had listened in on the call via a wiretap. Huneeus had only paid $50,000 of the fee by the time of his arrest, said the Attorney’s Office.

Huneeus’ daughter has not been charged with any wrongdoing and USC reportedly rescinded its offer of a place before her enrolment.