Hollywood star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband pleaded guilty Friday to conspiracy charges for paying bribes totaling $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as phony crew recruits in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal.
Loughlin, 55, a pop culture icon whose role as Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House” endeared her to millions, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, 56, entered their pleas via video-conference in US District Court in Boston.
Under terms of their plea deals, subject to approval by Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton, Loughlin will serve two months in prison and Giannulli will spend five months behind bars.
Their attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.
Gorton said Friday from the bench that he’ll decide whether to accept the plea deals after reviewing the presentence reports, which probation officials have indicated can be ready within 90 days. If Gorton rejects the deals, the couple can withdraw their guilty pleas and go to trial.
Sentencing is slated for Aug. 21, and Loughlin and Giannulli remain free on bond.
The actress, whose additional screen credits include roles in “Fuller House” and “Beverly Hills 90210,” appeared highly alert during the hearing, staring straight ahead as she sat next to her lawyer, Sean Berkowitz.
At one point Gorton asked Loughlin if anyone had forced her to enter a guilty plea, a standard question during federal sentencing hearings.
“No one has forced me to plead guilty, your honor,” Loughlin said.
She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, while her husband pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud.
Both defendants face maximum prison terms of 20 years, though the government and defense worked out the deals calling for the far lighter penalties.
In addition to Loughlin’s two-month prison term, she’ll be fined $150,000 and serve two years of supervised release with 100 hours of community service, according to her deal. Giannulli’s deal calls for the five-month prison term, plus a $250,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service.
The two are among more than 50 people charged in connection with the case, in which wealthy parents cut large checks to admitted ringleader William “Rick" Singer to get their children falsely classified as athletic recruits at selective schools, effectively paving their way to admission, or to facilitate cheating on SAT and ACT exams.
Lelling’s office declined to comment after Friday’s hearing, though the US attorney said Thursday that the couple’s plea deals will result in them serving "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.”
In August 2016, court records show, Singer told Loughlin and Giannulli he would “create a coxswain profile” for their older daughter and that “[i]t would probably help to get a picture with her on an ERG [indoor rowing machine] in workout clothes like a real athlete too.”
Giannulli responded via e-mail, “Fantastic. Will get all.”
Following the older daughter’s provisional admission to USC as a bogus recruit, legal filings show, Singer directed Giannulli via e-mail to send a $50,000 check to the former school athletics official, with the check made out to USC Athletics.
When Giannulli asked if he should categorize the check as a donation for accounting purposes, Singer replied, “Yes,” according to court documents. The couple later made additional payments totaling $400,000 to Singer’s sham charity as purported donations after the daughters were formally accepted to USC, records show.
The school confirmed last fall that the daughters were no longer enrolled.
The couple’s decision to plead guilty was an abrupt shift from their earlier, more combative posture, when they and several other parents filed a motion to dismiss the charges, asserting prosecutors withheld evidence showing Singer told parents their payments were legitimate donations to the schools rather than bribes.
Olivia Jade Giannulli, the couple’s younger daughter, has repeatedly taken to social media to support her parents, and she posted an Instagram message to Loughlin on Mother’s Day.
“You are my best friend and have held my hand every day for 20 years making it look like motherhood is an easy job,” Olivia Giannulli wrote. “You are one of a kind. I love you so so so much & cannot wait to give you all the love in the world today & forever. Thank you for being you. You are the most special person to me . I am so blessed to be your daughter and so proud to call you mom.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.