Hollywood star Lori Loughlin received a two-month federal prison sentence Friday in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions cheating case, which upended the career and reputation of an actress who rose to prominence playing Aunt Becky on the hit sitcom “Full House.”
“I have great faith in God, and I believe in redemption,” said a somber Loughlin, 56, in her first public comments on the case during her sentencing hearing in US District Court in Boston, held remotely via Zoom. “I am truly, profoundly, and deeply sorry. I am ready to face the consequences and make amends.”
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, 57, who was sentenced to five months in prison, paid bribes totaling $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as phony crew recruits, even though neither rowed competitively. Last fall, USC said the daughters were no longer enrolled in the school.
Loughlin, her voice halting at times, told Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton, “I made an awful decision” in going along with the scheme and “allowed myself to be swayed from my moral compass.”
She and her husband had both pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges in May.
Before he handed down Loughlin’s sentence, which both prosecution and defense had agreed to recommend under terms of a plea deal, Gorton said he believed she was remorseful. But the judge also expressed exasperation at Loughlin’s stunning fall from the heights of celebrity to an impending stint behind bars.
“Here you are, an admired, successful professional actor” with a healthy family and “more money than you could possibly need,” Gorton said. “A fairy-tale life — yet you stand before me a convicted felon.”
Under terms of their plea deals, Loughlin and Giannulli, in addition to their prison terms, were ordered to perform 100 hours and 250 hours of community service, respectively, and to pay fines of $150,000 and $250,000, respectively.
Before Loughlin addressed the court Friday, Gorton heard from Assistant US Attorney Justin O’Connell, who noted that Loughlin’s daughters had considerable advantages over many other college applicants.
But for Loughlin, O’Connell said, those advantages ”simply were not enough.”
“Loughlin was fully complicit in a serious offense,” O’Connell said, adding that she was “focused on getting what she wanted, no matter how, no matter the cost.”
O’Connell asserted that she should be treated no differently than a “blue collar” waiter up for sentencing.
A lawyer for Loughlin, William J. Trach, noted that his client, despite her wealth and fame, comes from humble beginnings in a working-class family in Queens.
“From a young age, Lori was determined to succeed” and provide for her family, Trach said.
He said the conduct of Loughlin — who in the past year has done volunteer work at a school and raised money for COVID-19 relief — was out of character in the college case. And she “lost the acting career she spent 40 years building.”
She has also been subjected to “unrelenting” media interest and paparazzi who have “followed Lori wherever she goes,” Trach said, but that “pales in comparison” to the sadness she feels for her daughters, who have both needed security during the scandal.
Gorton sentenced Giannulli earlier on Friday.
“I deeply regret the harm that my actions have caused my daughters, my wife, and others,” Giannulli said during the hearing. “I take full responsibility for my conduct. I am ready to accept the consequences and move forward with the lessons I’ve learned from this experience.”
Giannulli and Loughlin were among the dozens arrested in March 2019 for participating in the scheme, in which wealthy parents allegedly cut large checks to admitted ringleader William “Rick” Singer to get their children classified as athletic recruits at selective schools, effectively paving their way to admission, or to facilitate cheating on the kids’ SAT and ACT exams.
In the case of the Hollywood power couple, prosecutors have said that in August 2016 Singer told Loughlin and Giannulli he would “create a coxswain profile” for their older daughter and that it “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 crew recruit, prosecutors said, Singer directed Giannulli via e-mail to send a $50,000 check to a former school athletics official, now charged in connection with the case.
When Giannulli asked if he should categorize the check as a donation for accounting purposes, Singer replied, “Yes,” prosecutors wrote. The couple later made additional payments totaling $400,000 to Singer’s sham charity as purported donations.
In late 2018, when Singer was cooperating with the FBI, he had a secretly recorded phone conversation with Loughlin in which he told her the IRS was auditing his charity, but that “nothing has been said about the girls, your donations helping the girls get into USC to do crew even though they didn’t do crew,” prosecutors wrote.
Loughlin replied, “So we just — so we just have to say we made a donation to your foundation and that’s it, end of story?” Singer said, “That is correct,” prosecutors wrote.
Loughlin, prosecutors said in court papers, “took a less active role [than Giannulli], but was nonetheless fully complicit, eagerly enlisting Singer a second time for her younger daughter.
Loughlin and Giannulli are both due to report to prison on Nov. 19.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.