Actress Felicity Huffman has been released on a $250,000 (£191,000) bail bond after appearing in court in connection with an alleged university admissions scam in the US.
The Hollywood star, best known for her leading role in Desperate Housewives, was among more than 40 people, including fellow actress Lori Loughlin, charged as part of a police investigation on Tuesday.
It is alleged that wealthy parents allegedly bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centres to help get their children into some of the most elite universities in the country, including Stanford and Yale.
Authorities have called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the US Justice Department, with the parents accused of paying an estimated $25 million (£19 million) in bribes.
In court in LA, Huffman looked repeatedly at her husband, actor William H Macy, during the proceedings.
The whereabouts of Full House star Loughlin, who was charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are not clear.
A magistrate judge in Los Angeles set a $1 million (£760,000) bond for Giannulli, and he and Huffman were both told to surrender their passports.
What are the details of the alleged scam?
More than 40 people have been charged over the alleged scheme, in which wealthy parents are said to have paid bribes to help get their children into America’s top universities.
At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents, many of them prominent in law, finance, fashion, the food and beverage industry and other fields, were charged.
“These parents are a catalogue of wealth and privilege,” prosecutor Andrew Lelling said as he announced the results of the fraud and conspiracy investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, on Tuesday.
Among the parents charged are Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
The coaches charged worked at universities including Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
The central figure in the scheme has been identified as admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California.
He has pleaded guilty to charges including racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
No students have been charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on.
The star, who was nominated for best actress at the 2006 Oscars for her role playing a transgender woman in Transamerica, has appeared in court charged with conspiracy to commit fraud.
Her lawyer argued she should be released on her own recognisance, rather than paying bail, saying: “She’s simply not the kind of person who is going to become an international fugitive.”
However, the judge refused this and bail was set at $250,000. She is next scheduled to appear in court in Boston on 29 March.
The FBI says Huffman was one of 13 defendants taken into custody in LA on Tuesday.
Court documents say the star paid $15,000 disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in an entrance-exam cheating scam.
According to the AP news agency, the documents say a co-operating witness met with Huffman and husband Macy at their home in LA.
He explained to them that he “controlled” a testing centre and could arrange for her daughter’s answers to be changed. It is alleged the couple agreed to the plan.
Macy has not been charged, but authorities have not said why.
The couple’s daughter, Sofia, is an aspiring actress who attends Los Angeles High School of the Arts.
Earlier this year Macy said in an interview with Parade magazine that his family was “in the thick of college application time, which is so stressful”.
The actress, who starred in sitcom Full House in the 1980s and ’90s, has been charged along with her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli.
Prosecutors in the case say they have agreed to let Loughlin travel to Vancouver for work, but her whereabouts are currently unknown.
Loughlin and her husband allegedly paid $500,000 to have their two daughters labelled as recruits to the USC crew rowing team, even though neither participated in the sport.
Their 19-year-old daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli, a social media star with almost 2 million subscribers on YouTube, is now at USC.
What is the reaction?
The University of Southern California says it has fired two employees who were indicted over the alleged scam, and is also reviewing its admissions procedures.
Stanford University says it has fired sailing coach John Vandemoer, who was charged with accepting a total of $270,000 in contributions to the school’s program for agreeing to recommend two prospective students for admission. He has pleaded guilty.
The school said that neither student went to Stanford but that “the alleged behaviour runs completely counter to Stanford’s values”.
Stanford said it has no evidence that anyone else at the school is involved but will conduct an internal review.
Wake Forest University says it has suspended its head volleyball coach in the wake of the charges, while The University of California, Los Angeles says its soccer coach has been placed on leave pending a review.
The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) has said it will look into the allegations against coaches.