Lori Loughlin faces moment of truth in college admissions scandal as daughters exit USC
Felicity Huffman is now serving time behind bars.
Other high-profile parents in the college admissions case have pleaded guilty.
But so far, there is no indication from Lori Loughlin and her camp about whether she plans to fight the charges or join others and make a deal with prosecutors.
On Monday, four parents changed their pleas to guilty, and USC announced that Loughlin’s children — who prosecutors allege got into the school after cheating by Loughlin and her husband — were no longer enrolled there.
“Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Rose Giannulli are not currently enrolled,” USC said. “We are unable to provide additional information because of student privacy laws.”
Loughlin, of TV’s “Full House,” and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to have their two daughters admitted to USC as crew recruits. Though neither is a rower, the parents saw being a coxswain as their daughters’ ticket into the private college, which has an acceptance rate of 13%, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Federal prosecutors accused top CEOs, two Hollywood actresses and a legendary fashion designer of taking part in an audacious scheme to get their children into elite universities through fraud, bribes and lies.
Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty after their arrests in March.
The couple began discussing the plot with William “Rick” Singer in April 2016 after they met with the college counselor of their older daughter, according to the affidavit.
“I’d like to maybe sit with you after your session with the girls as I have some concerns and want to fully understand the game plan and make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!” Giannulli allegedly wrote in an email to Singer.
Singer told the couple that their daughter’s academic qualifications were “at or just below the low end of USC’s admission,” according to the affidavit.
At a cost of $500,000, prosecutors allege, the couple tapped what Singer called his “side door” into USC by bribing Donna Heinel, an athletics department official, to designate their two daughters as recruited rowers. Heinel has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering. She was fired by USC in March.
Douglas Hodge reversed course after prosecutors warned parents who had maintained their innocence that they could face a charge of federal program bribery.
Loughlin and Giannulli’s payments were funneled through Singer’s charity, whose stated mission was to help “underprivileged students,” according to charging documents filed in federal court. The tax-exempt status for Singer’s “Key Worldwide Foundation” allowed some of Singer’s clients to write off bribes as charitable gifts on their taxes, authorities said.
USC didn’t say why Loughlin’s daughters exited USC. But the university earlier this year launched a review of students tied to the scandal. Officials had earlier said the outcomes of those reviews could range from no action to revocation of a student’s admission, depending on the facts of each case.
Federal prosecutors have been ratcheting up pressure on parents who have maintained their innocence in the college admissions scandal with a warning they intend to file additional criminal charges as early as this week, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Earlier this month, Felicity Huffman reported to a federal prison in Northern California, where she is spending two weeks behind bars for conspiring to rig her daughter’s college entrance exams. The award-winning actress was arrested in March and pleaded guilty two months later to fraud conspiracy, admitting she paid $15,000 to Singer to fix her daughter’s SAT score.
But legal experts have said Loughlin could face more prison time than Huffman because she is accused of spending far more money in the scheme. And U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani, who has so far sentenced 10 parents, has said she views parents who used Singer’s athletic recruitment scam as more deserving of prison than parents who exploited his test-fixing scheme.
The wealthy couple willing to pay him millions lived in Beijing, but William “Rick” Singer needed only to go to Pasadena to find them.
In an interview earlier this month on WCVB-TV on Boston, a top federal prosecutor in the case, Andrew Lelling, said the government would like to ask for more prison time for Loughlin.
“Huffman was probably the least culpable of the defendants who we’ve charged in that case,” he told the station. “She took responsibility almost immediately. She was contrite, did not try to minimize her conduct. I think she handled it in a very classy way.”
As for Loughlin, he added: “If she’s convicted, I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets by saying we would probably ask for a higher sentence for her than we did for Felicity Huffman. I can’t tell you exactly what that would be. ... Let’s say she goes through to trial: If it’s after trial, I think certainly we’d be asking for something substantially higher. If she resolved her case short of trial, something a little lower than that.”
On Monday, parents Douglas Hodge, Michelle Janavs and Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering.
Prosecutors had warned parents that a new indictment, carrying an added charge of federal program bribery, could be unsealed as soon as this week, people familiar with the negotiations said.
The charge can be leveled at anyone accused of bribing an employee or agent of an organization that receives $10,000 or more in funding from the federal government, and who obtains something valued at $5,000 or more in exchange.
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