Lori Loughlin and husband plead guilty to charges stemming from college admissions scandal

The Hollywood power couple admits they acted illegally to get their daughters into University of Southern California.
Image:
Actress Lori Loughlin arrives at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019.Joseph Prezioso / AFP - Getty Images file

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By David K. Li

Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband pleaded guilty on Friday to federal charges connected to a massive college admission scandal that rocked higher education.

The "Full House" actress, 55, and husband Mossimo Giannulli, 56, admitted to their wrongdoing during a video conference with Boston-based U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton.

The federal court in Boston has been shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic.

Loughlin and Giannulli appeared in separate Zoom boxes, each seated next to their attorneys, during the procedural hearing.

Before setting their sentencing hearing for Aug. 21, Judge Gorton repeatedly asked the couple to confirm they were aware of the consequences of pleading guilty to felonies.

They answered "yes" each time, though Loughlin and her lawyer occasionally struggled with their unmute button.

Gorton told the defendants he still has to decide whether to accept the deal struck between prosecutors and defense lawyers. If he rejects the agreement, Loughlin and Giannulli would have the option of withdrawing their guilty pleas.

Prosecutors announced Thursday that Loughlin would plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and Giannulli to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud.

The agreement calls for Loughlin to spend two months in prison, pay a $150,000 fine, be subjected to two years of supervised release and perform 100 hours of community service, prosecutors said. Giannulli agreed to five months in prison, a $250,000 fine, two years of supervised release and 250 hours of community service.

The couple had been fighting charges until they were dealt a legal setback this month when a judge sided with prosecutors and against defense lawyers' argument that FBI agents had improperly pressured the operation's ringleader, Rick Singer, who is a cooperating witness, to get incriminating evidence against defendants.

The admissions scandal led to the arrests of more than 50 affluent parents and educators accused of using big-dollar, backdoor methods to get children into elite colleges.

Parents paid Singer large sums to inflate student resumes by either passing them off as elite athletes or having their standardized test scores boosted.

In college sports, coaches are often given wide latitude to get their recruited student-athletes admitted. In Loughlin's case, for example, daughters Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Rose Giannulli were photographed working out on rowing machines used by crew athletes, prosecutors said.

The government in court on Friday outlined its case against the couple, including a series of emails between the defendants and Singer, as they planned to portray the daughters as crew athletes.

In one message Giannulli wrote to his financial adviser, arranging for a $200,000 payment to Singer, the fashion designer wrote: "Good news my daughter ... is in (U)SC... bad is I had to work the system."

The daughters, who never participated in crew, were not accused of any wrongdoing.

Loughlin and Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman were the two biggest names caught up in the probe, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues" by prosecutors.