Lori Loughlin faces prison after officially changing plea to guilty in college admissions scandal — but it’s not a done deal

Suzy ByrneEditor, Yahoo Entertainment
Yahoo Celebrity

Lori Loughlin has officially changed her plea to guilty in the college admissions scandal.

The Full House actress and her fashion husband, Mossimo Giannulli, appeared via teleconference before the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton on Friday for the plea hearing, which Yahoo Entertainment watched virtually.

Loughlin — who signed off on the deal Wednesday — entered a “guilty” plea to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud while her husband of 22 years changed his plea to guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest-services wire and mail fraud.

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The judge will now consider their plea agreement (he first must review pre-sentencing reports from the Massachusetts Probation Service), but he went ahead and set a sentencing date. If Gorton rejects the plea agreement, Loughlin and her husband have the right to change their guilty plea and proceed to trial.

During the proceedings, which were virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors ran through the extensive evidence against the couple — emails, phone calls, cancelled checks and the infamous taged rowing photos. While outlining their case against the pair, they stated that “Loughlin and Giannulli understood that [scandal mastermind William “Rick”] Singer “would falsely present their daughter to [University of Southern California] admissions as an experienced coxswain,” something they did twice with both daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Giannulli. Prosecutors also said the couple staged photos of both girls on ergometer machines in workout clothes to look like real athletes.

The judge asked if Loughlin and Giannulli — who were in Los Angeles, where they reside — disagreed with any of the claims outlined by prosecutors and they both told the judge that they did not.

Loughlin, who appeared separately from her husband alongside attorney Sean M. Berkowitz from Latham & Watkins, was asked prior to changing her plea if the terms read by the government are what she agreed to. She replied, “Yes your honor, they are.”

When it came to changing their pleas, Gorton asked Loughlin first if anyone attempted to force her to plead guilty and she replied, “No one has forced me to plead guilty your honor.”

Loughlin, in a green top, had a grim look on her face when she said the word “guilty.” (The court prohibited recording or photographing the proceedings.)

The couple’s sentencing is scheduled to take place Aug. 21, but Giannulli’s attorney William J. Trach, also from Latham & Watkins, made an appeal to push up the date to July.

Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, leaving Boston federal court in August, have pleaded guilty the college admissions scandal (Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, leaving Boston federal court in August, have pleaded guilty the college admissions scandal (Photo: AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Massachusetts agreed in the plea arrangement that Loughlin will receive a sentence of two months in prison, a $150,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 100 hours of community service, but it’s subject to court approval.

Giannulli, who seemed to play a larger role in the scam, is recommended to serve five months in prison, pay a $250,000 fine and have two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service. 

Per their agreement, their incarcerations will begin no earlier than 90 days after the final judgment is imposed. A legal expert tells Yahoo Entertainment both Loughlin and Giannulli could serve “less time” in prison due to coronavirus.

They had faced up to 50 years each for the multiple charges against them. (They had been facing: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud; conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.) However, they were never expected to serve that amount of time.

In the widespread scheme orchestrated by disgraced college admissions expert William “Rick” Singer, Loughlin and Giannulli paid $500,000 to get their social media influencer daughters into the USC as purported athletic recruits.

Neither of the young women, known for their red carpet appearances and online makeup tutorials, participated in rowing, but Singer and his team orchestrated fraudulent athletic profiles for them with the staged rowing photos and fake résumés that painted them as talented coxswains. (On Olivia Jade’s fake résumé, it stated she was participating in grueling rowing tournaments across the country when her own social media account showed her being elsewhere — like a high school formal.)

Prosecutors made public emails between Singer, Giannulli and Loughlin during the process. One had Singer requesting “a picture” of Isabella, now 21, “on an ERG in workout clothes” to look “like a real athlete.” The fashion designer replied, “Fantastic. Will get all” and he replied with the photo of Bella posing on the ergometer. He also paid $50,000 to then-USC athletic administrator Donna Heinel followed by $200,000 to Singer’s shell charity.

The couple repeated the process with the now-20-year-old Olivia Jade, who didn’t participate in the sport either and bragged about only going to college so she could party.

Singer made a plea deal last year and awaits sentencing. Former USC soccer coach Laura Janke, who worked with Singer to make the fake profiles, also made a plea deal and awaits sentencing. Heinel faces several charges and pleaded not guilty.

Loughlin and Giannulli — who maintained their innocence, saying they believed their payments were legitimate donations to USC — had a trial date set for Oct. 5. However, in the last month, prosecutors played hardball, releasing the damning rowing photos, résumé, emails and other documents.

Perhaps the final blow was the judge’s shooting down their attempt to dismiss the charges against them in a decision made on May 8.

Loughlin and Giannulli’s attorney Berkowitz told Yahoo after the plea agreement was announced that the couple would not be commenting on their case. Loughlin’s personal publicist also said no comment would be made.

More than 50 people — parents, coaches, administrators and beyond — were charged in the scheme, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by prosecutors. Loughlin’s peer, actress Felicity Huffman, was among the first to plead guilty — admitting to paying $15,000 to fix her daughter’s SAT scores — and completed her two-week prison sentence in October.

As for Olivia Jade and Bella, who were not charged in the case, they no longer attend USC. They have resumed their social media presences.

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