Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says college admissions scandal shows U.S. justice system "targets race" and pardons "crimes of wealth and privilege"

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

Impact of Felicity Huffman guilty plea

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed shortcomings in the U.S. justice system on Tuesday, pointing to "Operation Varsity Blues" to highlight inequities in law enforcement. Ocasio-Cortez's remarks came after it was reported that prosectors are expected to seek no more than 10 months of jail time for Felicity Huffman, one of the famous parents involved in the college admissions scandal.

"Our country has a 'justice' system that criminalizes poverty + disproportionately targets race, yet routinely pardons large-scale crimes of wealth and privilege," Ocasion-Cortez wrote, responding to the news about Huffman's expected sentence.

Our country has a “justice” system that criminalizes poverty + disproportionately targets race, yet routinely pardons large-scale crimes of wealth and privilege.

Moments like these tell us it’s less a justice system, and more a class enforcement system. ⬇️ https://t.co/etlIksWsiy

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 16, 2019

Huffman and 13 other parents pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to commit fraud in the college admissions scandal. Huffman admitted paying $15,000 for her daughter's answers to be changed on the SAT.

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Prosecutors say the college admission scheme was widespread, with dozens of parents paying the mastermind behind the operation, William "Rick" Singer, to fix test scores or bribe coaches to ensure their children would be admitted to elite colleges.

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid half a million dollars to have their two daughters categorized as recruits to the USC crew team even though neither participated in the sport. They pleaded not guilty. It's a gamble that could result in greater punishment if they're convicted, CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman told "CBS This Morning."

Still, many feel the punishment wealthy parents may face for these charges are not proportionate to the way the legal system treats less privileged defendants.

Ocasio-Cortez, who represents part of New York City and describes herself as a Democratic Socialist, responded to reports of Huffman's possible 4-to-10-month sentence by saying, "Moments like these tell us it's less a justice system, and more a class enforcement system."

Ocasio-Cortez is not the first person to compare this case – which involves upper-class parents – to similar cases involving underprivileged parents or people of color.

Many Twitter users have compared Huffman and Loughlin's cases to the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, a black mother from Ohio who used her father's address to enroll her children in a neighboring school district where she thought the'd get a better education. In 2011, Williams-Bolar spent nine days in jail after a jury convicted her of falsifying documents to enroll her daughters in the school.

Other Twitter users cited a 2011 case in Connecticut, in which a homeless woman was charged with stealing more $15,000 because she sent her 6-year-old son to a school in a district they did not live in. The mother, Tonya McDowell, was charged with first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny for sending her child to the school, The Stamford Advocate reports.

McDowell said she was living in her van at the time and just wanted a good education for her son. She faced a potential of 20 years behind bars – far more than expected for celebrity parents, who also wanted their kids to receive a good education. McDowell was later sentenced to five years in jail after accepting a plea deal on drug and larceny charges, according to The Stamford Advocate.

Many Twitter users shared information about these two cases with Ocasio-Cortez, using them as examples of what she called "a 'justice' system that criminalizes poverty and disproportionately targets race."

First published on April 17, 2019 / 1:01 PM

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