MASSACHUSETTS (CNN) — The actress Lori Loughlin was sentenced to two months in prison on Friday for her role in the college admissions scandal, a fate she and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, initially tried to avoid after they were charged by federal authorities.
Loughlin was sentenced several hours after Giannulli, who faces 5 months in prison, a $250,000 fine and 250 hours of community service, according to the US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts.
The sentencing brings an end to the saga for Loughlin and Giannulli, arguably the parents with the highest profiles who admitted to paying the scheme’s mastermind, William Rick Singer, $500,000 to get both their daughters into the University of Southern California.
Mossimo Giannulli was sentenced to five months in prison on Friday for his role in the college admissions scandal, just a few hours before his wife, the famed actress Lori Loughlin, was expected to learn her own fate.
Giannulli, a fashion designer, also faces two years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and 250 hours of community service, according to the US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. Giannulli must surrender to the US Bureau of Prisons before 2 p.m. on November 19.
“I deeply regret the harm that my actions have caused my daughters, my wife and others,” said Giannulli, who wore a suit and tie during his virtual sentencing hearing. “I take full responsibility for my conduct. I’m ready to accept the consequences and move forward with the lessons I’ve learned from this experience.”
Friday’s sentencings will bring an end to the saga for Giannulli and Loughlin, who became the face of the college admissions scandal and is arguably the parent with the highest profile who admitted to paying the scheme’s mastermind, William Rick Singer, $500,000 to get both their daughters into the University of Southern California.
Loughlin, a TV star who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House,” and Giannulli plead guilty to conspiracy charges, taking advantage of what Singer referred to as his “side door” into the university by creating fake profiles for the girls and passing them off as recruits on the crew team.
Loughlin and Giannulli were among the defendants who initially pleaded not guilty and were willing to roll the dice in court. But the couple changed their pleas in May and hammered out a deal with prosecutors. Loughlin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and Giannulli pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud.
During the sentencing Friday, District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton addressed Giannulli, telling the defendant he was convicted of a crime “motivated by hubris.”
“You certainly did know better and you helped sponsor a breathtaking fraud on our system of education and involved your wife and your two daughters in cheating and faking their way into a prestigious university,” Gorton said. “You were not stealing bread to feed your family. You have no excuse for your crime. And that makes it all the more blameworthy.”
Loughlin had less active role in scheme, US Attorney says
Federal prosecutors on Tuesday formally asked that Loughlin be sentenced to two months in prison and Giannulli five months. Giannulli faces a $250,000 fine and 250 hours of community service, while Loughlin would get a $150,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. Each would receive two years of supervised release.
“He engaged more frequently with Singer, directed the bribe payments to USC and Singer, and personally confronted his daughter’s high school counselor to prevent the scheme from being discovered, brazenly lying about his daughter’s athletic abilities,” wrote US Attorney Andrew Lelling of Massachusetts in the detention memo released on Tuesday.
“Loughlin took a less active role, but was nonetheless fully complicit, eagerly enlisting Singer a second time for her younger daughter, and coaching her daughter not to ‘say too much’ to her high school’s legitimate college counselor, lest he catch on to their fraud.”
Because of the type of plea agreement that Loughlin, Giannulli and prosecutors entered into, the judge will have very little wiggle room to veer off the agreed-upon deal. Loughlin is expected to be sentenced in the afternoon.
“The case went south on the prosecutors,” said CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, who referenced exculpatory evidence that Loughlin’s defense attorneys argued proved that she and Giannulli thought they were donating to a legitimate business. “Those documents were potentially devastating to the prosecution’s case and massively reduced the prosecutors’ chance at getting a conviction at trial.”
Word of the evidence came to light in December, when Loughlin and Giannulli’s lawyers argued that iPhone notes from Singer’s mobile device allege that FBI agents spoke aggressively to him about his recorded calls with defendants, and they alleged investigatory misconduct. They also argued that prosecutors had not handed over this evidence quickly enough, only eight months before an October trial, and that they did not have enough time to prepare.
Couple could have faced up to 20 years in prison
US District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton denied a motion to dismiss the charges and said the evidence could be debated at trial. Gorton also wrote in his decision that the defense had enough time and that the failure to turn over the notes was “irresponsible” and “misguided” not “willful,” because of prosecutors “imprudent underestimation of the context, relevance and potential exculpatory nature of the notes.”
Still, the exculpatory evidence opened the door for a good deal for Loughlin and Giannulli, Honig said.
“There’s always a risk of going to trial. If she had gone to trial and been convicted, she would have gotten slammed sentencing wise,” the legal analyst said. “It’s a deal that I think makes sense both ways but reflects the fact that the prosecutor’s case really took an unexpected turn.”
So far, 55 defendants have been charged in connection with the college admissions scandal, and of those, 41 have either pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty, according to the US Attorney’s Office. Of those, 28 parents, including Loughlin and Giannulli, initially pleaded not guilty. Twenty parents have been sentenced, while 13 others, including coaches, administrators, members of Singer’s group and Mark Riddell, the expert test taker, have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty.
Actress Felicity Huffman, the other high-profile parent to be charged in the crime scheme, pleaded guilty and spent 11 days in jail. She was released in October and has not spoken publicly about the incident.
Huffman, who accepted responsibility from the onset, was sentenced by US District Court Judge Indira Talwani, who is also regarded as more lenient in her sentencing, according to courtroom insiders.
Loughlin and Giannulli entered into what is known in the federal system as a “C Plea.” The plea takes away the judge’s power to deviate from the terms that have already been agreed upon. If Gorton, known for being tough with sentencing, accepts the plea in court, which he’s expected to do, then he also agrees to accept the “C Plea.”
Attorney Robert Fisher, who represented John Vandemoer, the former Stanford sailing coach who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the college admissions scam, described Gorton as stern but fair.
“He’s one of the heavier sentencers” said Fisher, of the law firm Nixon Peabody.
If Loughlin and Giannulli had gone to trial and been convicted, they could have faced up to 20 years in prison for the conspiracy charge, prosecutors said.
“With her guidelines, she could have been looking at significantly more time after trial,” Fisher said. “Two months is going to be a significant deviation from the original sentencing guidelines.”