Loughlin, Giannulli to serve prison time for college scam

‘Full House’ actress Lori Loughlin has agreed to be behind bars for two months and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli has agreed to serve for five months as part of a deal to plead guilty to defrauding the admission process of the university, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, will plead guilty Friday via videoconference to a federal judge in Boston to approve the deal.

It’s a stunning reversal for the famous couple who insisted last year that they were innocent and that investigators have come up with evidence against them. Their decision comes about two weeks after the judge rejected their bid to dismiss the case over allegations of misconduct by federal authorities.

“I think they made a calculated estimate that the risks were just too great” to bring the case to justice, said former federal prosecutor Bradley Simon.

They would go to trial in October on charges of paying $ 500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters to the University of Southern California as recruits of the team, although neither played the sport. They helped create fake athletic profiles for their daughters by sending the plan’s admitted leader, admission counselor Rick Singer, photos of the teens posing on rowing machines, authorities said.

Lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli had argued that the couple believed the payments were “legitimate donations” that would go directly to the USC as a fundraising gift or to support Singer’s charity. They also accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove the couple’s innocence because it would undermine their case.

They agreed to plead for plotting wire and post fraud in a plea deal filed with Boston Federal Court. Giannulli will also be charged with allegations of heartfelt services, wire and postal fraud, prosecutors said. Prosecutors have agreed to dismiss the money laundering charges and bribery of federal programs added after the case was brought.

Under Loughlin’s plea deal, she will also pay a fine of $ 150,000 and carry out 100 hours of community service. Giannulli has agreed to pay a fine of $ 250,000 and to perform 250 hours of community service.

Simon said the couple’s lawyers think that Loughlin and Giannulli have the chance to avoid jail altogether and face their sentences at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Attorney General William Barr has instructed the Bureau of Prisons to increase the use of house shelters and to speed up the release of eligible high-risk prisoners because of the virus crisis. The pandemic has already delayed the prison sentences of some parents who have pleaded guilty to university admissions and have allowed others to return home early.

“It may have been a very smart move from the lawyers,” said Simon, now with the Windels Marx firm in New York.

Prosecutors also risked embarrassment if they lost the high-profile case, and the couple’s lawyers had brought up a number of viable lines of defense for trial, said former assistant American attorney Jeff Cramer.

“For both parties, from prosecutors and defense sides, I think this is a fair result,” said Cramer, who is now director of the Berkeley Research Group consultancy.

A lawyer for the couple declined to comment.

Loughlin and Giannulli were among the 50 people arrested last year in the case called Operation Varsity Blues that turned the word of higher education on its head. They are the 23rd and 24th parents who have pleaded guilty in the case.

The case uncovered a plan in which wealthy parents paid huge sums to secure the admission of students to elite schools as fake athletic recruits or to have someone cheat on their entrance exams, authorities said.

US Attorney Andrew Lelling said his office “will continue to pursue responsibility for undermining the integrity of university admission”.

“Under the plea agreements cited today, these defendants will serve prison terms reflecting their respective roles in a conspiracy to corrupt the university’s admission process and consistent with previous sentences in this case,” he said in an email statement.

Other parents who have been sent to prison for taking part in the scam include actress Felicity Huffman, “Desperate Housewives.” At the end of last year, she was behind bars for almost two weeks after admitting she paid $ 15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s entrance exams.

California winemaker Agustin Huneeus Jr., who also pleaded guilty, was released for two weeks from his five-month sentence in early March because of the public health crisis.

The judge has allowed other parents, including the heiress of the Hot Pockets fortune, to defer their prison terms for the virus outbreak.

Michelle Janavs, whose family invented Hot Pockets, and Douglas Hodge, the ex-CEO of Pacific Investment Management Co., may remain free until at least June 30, the judge said. The judge said he would consider further delays if the virus crisis has not eased by then.

Janavs was sentenced to five months and Hodge to nine months.

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