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Correction: The original version of this article falsely stated that Tanya McDowell was sentenced to five years in prison solely after larceny conviction for falsifying her son’s address to get him into a neighboring school district. The sentence, which came after a plea agreement, actually encompassed three crimes to which McDowell pleaded guilty: Larceny and two counts of sale of narcotics.
Felicity Huffman‘s 14-day sentence has brought back into the spotlight a case where a Connecticut mom received a five-year sentence for falsifying her son’s residence to get him into a neighboring school district as well as selling drugs on two occasions.
Critics have pointed out the discrepancy in the sentences, but the cases are different: The sentence for Tanya McDowell, a woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was handed down after she pleaded guilty to charges including first-degree larceny and two counts of sale of narcotics, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael DeJoseph tells PEOPLE.
The first-degree larceny charges were brought after McDowell used her son’s babysitter’s address to enroll him in an elementary school in the neighboring town of Norwalk. The sale of narcotics charges were brought after McDowell was twice accused of selling drugs to an undercover police officer, DeJoseph says.
At the time of the sentencing, McDowell said in court, “I have no regrets seeking a better education for him, I do regret my participation in this drug case,” the Connecticut Post reported.
Last Friday, actress Huffman was sentenced to 14 days behind bars for her role in the college admissions scandal, which included paying $15,000 to admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer and his nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (“KWF”), who then facilitated cheating on Huffman’s daughter’s SAT test by having a proctor correct the teen’s answers after the fact.
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Critics pointed out the stark contrast in the consequences between these two cases, arguing that it exemplified a disparity that continues to put underprivileged communities at a disadvantage.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that a new study showed white school districts received $23 billion more in government funding than nonwhite school districts in 2016, regardless of the fact that they had the same number of students.
Thus, many parents find themselves using the addresses of friends and family to get their children into better school districts.
However, DeJoseph, referencing McDowell’s drug convictions, tells PEOPLE, “These cases are so dissimilar as to be comparing apples to motor oil.”
McDowell’s lawyer, Darnell Crossland, tells PEOPLE at the time of her arrest on the larceny charges, McDowell’s registered address was actually within the school district in Bridgeport, though she was living in a homeless shelter in Norwalk.
But DeJoseph says, “The narrative that she was homeless would not have been borne out from the evidence if the case had gone to trial.”
Crossland also tells PEOPLE that the police “set up an elaborate scheme where they had some undercover cops … come up to the shelter and start targeting her because would would not plead guilty to the school case.”
But DeJoseph says, “That’s not my recollection of what happened. She sold drugs to an undercover police officer on at least two occasions, and she admitted doing so in court.”