More than a year after Full House star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, were charged with paying half a million dollars in bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California, the famous couple appears headed for prison.
Loughlin and Giannulli will be sentenced on Friday after pleading guilty to participating in the college admissions cheating scheme that has laid bare the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities.
Loughlin’s plea deal with prosecutors calls for her to spend two months behind bars, while Giannulli’s calls for him to serve five months. They will be sentenced in separate hearings held via video conference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The judge said at their plea hearings that he would decide whether to accept their unusual deals with prosecutors after reviewing the presentencing report, a document that contains background on defendants and helps guide sentencing decisions. Unlike most plea agreements, in which the judge remains free to decide the defendant’s sentence, Loughlin and Giannulli’s proposed prison terms are binding if the judge accepts the deals.
They are among nearly 30 prominent parents who have admitted to charges in the scheme, which involved hefty bribes to get undeserving kids into college with rigged test scores or fake athletic credentials, authorities said. Ten parents are still fighting the charges.
Lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli had insisted for more than a year that the couple believed their payments were “legitimate donations.” They also accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove the couple’s innocence because it would undermine their case.
Loughlin and Giannulli’s about-face came shortly after the judge rejected their bid to dismiss the case over allegations of misconduct by federal agents.
The case shattered the clean image of Loughlin, who gained fame for her role as the wholesome Aunt Becky in the sitcom Full House that ran from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, and later became queen of the Hallmark channel with her holiday movies and the series When Calls the Heart.
The couple have not made any public statements since their arrest and — unlike every other parent sentenced so far in the case — they did not submit letters expressing regret or notes of support from family and friends to the judge ahead of their sentencing.
Couple funnelled money through sham charity
Loughlin pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud. Giannulli pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges of money laundering and federal programs bribery that were added after the case was filed.
Under the plea deal, Giannulli would also pay a $250,000 US fine and perform 250 hours of community service. Loughlin would pay a $150,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service.
Prosecutors told the judge this week that Giannulli deserves a tougher sentence because he was “the more active participant in the scheme,” while Loughlin “took a less active role but was nonetheless fully complicit.”
The couple funnelled money through a sham charity operated by college admissions consultant Rick Singer to get their two daughters into USC as crew recruits, even though neither girl was a rower, authorities said.
Investigators had recorded phone calls and emails showing the couple worked with Singer to secure their daughters’ admission with fake athletic profiles depicting them as star rowers. In one email, Singer told Loughlin and Giannulli he needed a picture of their older daughter on a rowing machine in workout clothes “like a real athlete.”
Prosecutors said the couple allowed the girls “to become complicit in crime,” instructing them to pose on rowing machines for photos and warning their younger daughter not too say too much to her high school counsellor to avoid getting caught.
When the counsellor began questioning their crew credentials, Giannulli angrily confronted him and asked why he was “trying to ruin or get in the way of their opportunities,” the counsellor wrote in notes detailed in court documents.
After the couple successfully bribed their younger daughter’s way into USC, Singer forwarded them a letter saying she was let in because of her “potential to make a significant contribution to the intercollegiate athletic program,” prosecutors wrote.
Loughlin responded: “This is wonderful news! (high-five emoji),” according to court filings.
Singer, who has also pleaded guilty, was expected to testify against them had the couple gone to trial.
Others parents who’ve been sent to prison for participating in the scam include Desperate Housewives actor Felicity Huffman. She served nearly two weeks behind bars late last year after she admitted to paying $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s entrance exam answers.