After months of fighting prosecutors over her indictment in the college admissions scandal, a subdued Lori Loughlin pleaded guilty Friday to paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulently get her daughter admitted into a top-tier college.
Saying little more that a “yes, your honor,” a “yes, sir” and reiterating the charges against them, Loughlin and her fashion-designer husband Mossimo Giannulli appeared on separate screens at a video conference hearing today before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton to formally enter their respective pleas.
With courts under stress because of the coronavirus pandemic and sentencing hearings extended to up to 120 days from the standard 90 days, the couple will be sentenced on August 21 at 2:30 PM ET and 11 AM ET, respectively, Gorton said.
Hobbled by the occasional muted microphone and dropped out screen that has become common place in this coronavirus era, the Zoom hearing came one day after the couple looked their legal future in the face and struck a deal with the office of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts in exchange for guilty pleas.
Originally looking at around 50 years behind bars and millions in fines for handing out big bucks and fake qualifications to phony Key Worldwide Foundation boss William “Rick” Singer in successful efforts to get her offspring into a top-notch school under false pretenses, Loughlin will now get a far more lenient punishment. In a quickly sought deal, lawyers for the onetime Fuller House star agreed two months in prison, a $150,000 fine and two years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service.
“No, your honor,” said Loughin on Friday morning when asked by Gorton if she had anything to add to the case laid out during the hearing by Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen, or if she disagreed with the scathing “Operation Varsity Blues” evidence he outlined.
After both and entered their respective pleas, Gorton told them he will review the plea agreement and decided to accept or reject it. Based on the case and the deal the government has put together, and awaiting a sentencing report, it is unlikely the judge wouldn’t go along with the plea agreement that has been ironed out.
Near the end of the nearly hourlong hearing, lawyers for now-disgraced When Calls the Heart actor Loughlin and her spouse asked to have the sentencing moved up to July 30 because they felt everything was pretty clear cut. Gorton said he would consider their request, but will probably stick with the August date because of congested schedules from probation officials.
All in all, the plea agreement is a pretty sweet deal for Loughlin, with Giannulli getting five months in prison, a $250,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service. Under the deal, Loughlin or Giannulli can appeal their sentencing for the felony. Correspondingly, the U.S. Attorney can withdraw from the deal, if either defendant were to change their plea.
On paper, while not the harshest sentence of the ongoing college admissions probe, Loughlin will get considerably more time than a fellow Hollywood star who also pleaded guilty in the case. In September 2019, American Crime star and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in a federal prison for her role in the bribery case. Of course, Huffman slipped Singer just $15,000, as opposed to the half a million Loughlin and Giannulli paid out for their daughters.
Still, like Huffman, first-time offender Loughlin will probably end up serving far less of her actual sentence in the overcrowded prison system. She may also benefit from coronavirus inducing the feds and states to let non-violent offenders serve out their time at home to help prevent further spreading of the potentially fatal virus.
While hearings in the nationwide college bribery scheme took place in federal court in Boston, the couple is expected to serve their incarceration in a federal prison in California.
Having formally pleaded not guilty in mid-April last year after first turning down a government deal, Loughlin and Giannulli were initially accused of paying “bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their offspring designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” according to a 200-page indictment made public on March 12 last year that snared more than 30 parents nationwide.
Foiled by a few technical glitches even before things officially started, Friday’s remote hearing comes less than two weeks after Loughlin, Giannulli and several other parents failed in their mutual move to get the case dismissed with allegations of “government misconduct” and accusations that FBI agents leaned on Singer to entrap defendants. “After consideration of the extensive briefing, affidavits and other information provided by the government and defendants, the Court is satisfied that the government has not lied to or misled the Court,” Gorton ruled on May 8.
Mutually represented by attorneys at Latham & Watkins, Loughlin and Giannulli, along with several other indicted parents, were scheduled to go to a jury trial trial in early October. That was of course under the assumption that federal courts would be fully functioning and back in session from the COVID-19 crisis that had essentially shuttered them the past few months.
“The defendants’ brief, despite its comprehensive catalogue of alleged government misconduct, tries to sanitize their actions by ignoring any mention of the larger fraud scheme within which the alleged bribery occurred,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling declared in his office’s April 8 reply to Loughlin, Giannulli and the likes of STX Entertainment backer William McGlashan and their legal teams. “Their claims, and the evidence in this case, must be viewed in the context of the actual indictment, not the imaginary one they would prefer to fight.”
In the end, reality came knocking for Loughlin and Giannulli, both of whom never went to college – as they admitted under oath today.