College Scam Plea Deals Include Prison Time for Loughlin, Giannulli

Lori Loughlin and her husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli, left, depart federal court Boston on Aug. 27, 2019, after a hearing in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Philip Marcelo)

BOSTON (CN) — Lori Loughlin and her fashion-designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed Thursday to serve prison time in connection with the college admissions scandal, pleading guilty to conspiracy charges rather than go to trial.

Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House,” will spend two months in prison, while Giannulli’s plea agreement says he will serve five months.

Both face two-year terms of supervision upon release, plus community service and fines: $150,000 fine for Loughlin and $250,000 for Giannulli.

According to federal sentencing guidelines, the couple faced a sentence of up 20 years in prison and three years of supervised release. They are represented by Latham & Watkins, a Boston firm that declined to comment Thursday on their clients’ pleas.

Loughlin and Giannulli were scheduled to go to trial in October on charges that they paid $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though neither girl was a rower.

The couple were among dozens indicted last year as part of “Operation Varsity Blues,” stemming from an FBI sting operation that took down California life coach Rick Singer.

With a network of officials from the college admissions, testing and athletic sides on his payroll, Singer solicited bribes from the wealthy parents of teens seeking admission to elite universities.

Singer, who cooperated with the government as part of a plea deal, used some of his connections to have teens designated as athletic recruits, which would reduce scrutiny of their academic credentials by college admissions boards. With clients, as evidenced by the guilty plea of “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman, Singer manipulated how his clients’ children performed on college entrance exams. Huffman served 11 days in prison late last year after she admitted to paying $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s SAT answers before they were officially submitted.

So long as U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton accepts the terms of Loughlin and Giannulli’s plea deals, federal prosecutors will drop bribery and money-laundering charges against the couple.

“Under the plea agreements filed today, these defendants will serve prison terms reflecting their respective roles in a conspiracy to corrupt the college admissions process and which are consistent with prior sentences in this case,” U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling, whose deputies charged the case, said in a statement. “We will continue to pursue accountability for undermining the integrity of college admissions.”

Though Loughlin and Giannulli insist they thought they were making legal donations, not bribes, the government says it has wiretap evidence documenting the couple’s complicity.

Their guilty plea come nearly two weeks after Judge Gorton refused to dismiss the charges against the couple on the basis that the government had withheld evidence. Though Gorton said the delay in evidence production, he also said it was not willful and still left plenty of time for trial preparation.

Loughlin and Giannulli had already been fighting the charges against them for nearly a full year when the government handed them 47 pages of incriminating notes that Singer had kept on his iPhone while cooperating with the FBI.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank conceded in a brief: “The government should have produced the notes earlier.”

“But the defendants’ contention that the government acted in bad faith is baseless; in a sprawling, fast-moving prosecution, the failure to produce the notes earlier was simply a mistake,” Frank wrote. “The defendants have suffered no prejudice, and their suggestion that the notes somehow ‘exonerate’ them, or reveal that the evidence against them was fabricated, is demonstrably false.”

Loughlin and Giannulli were part of a group of 23 defendants preparing for trial in case that has seen plea deals from 30 others.

The allegations against Loughlin included claims that she went as far as to have her daughters stage photos of them rowing since it was the false designation of them as crew recruits that was getting them into the University of Southern California.

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