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Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband enter guilty pleas in college admissions scandal

Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, pleaded guilty to fraud on Friday in a video conference hearing.
(Steven Senne / Associated Press)

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband pleaded guilty Friday to charges of fraud in the college admissions scandal, admitting they scammed their daughters’ way into USC with lies and illegal payments.

But the case against Loughlin and her husband J. Mossimo Giannulli remained unsettled after the judge in the case put off a decision on whether to accept the couple’s guilty pleas and the terms of deals they struck with prosecutors.

Under those deals, Loughlin would spend two months in prison and Giannulli would be sentenced to five months behind bars.

Nonetheless, the court hearing Friday, which was held remotely over a video conference, marked a sharp about-face for the couple. Since their arrests more than a year ago, Loughlin and Giannulli had maintained their innocence, repeatedly pleading not guilty as prosecutors ratcheted up pressure on them with enhanced charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud, bribery and money laundering.

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Before they said a somber “guilty” under oath Friday, the television star and fashion designer acknowledged what they had long denied: that they schemed with William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach consultant at the heart of the scandal, to pass off their two daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Rose Giannulli, as rowing recruits — a scam that cleared the way for the girls’ admission to the elite university.

Seated next to their attorneys, Loughlin and Giannulli listened with stony expressions as assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Rosen read an exhaustive account of their dealings with Singer, including how they paid him a total of $500,000, took staged photographs of the girls on rowing equipment to bolster the charade of their athletic prowess, and lied to administrators at USC and the girls’ tony private high school who had grown suspicious.

Afterward, under questioning from U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton, Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, acknowledged the allegations laid out by the prosecutor were true.

From his chambers in a Boston courthouse, Gorton said he would wait to decide whether to accept the guilty pleas until he received detailed reports on the case and the couple from probation officials. If he ultimately decides that the prison sentences, community service and six-figure fines called for in the plea agreements are too lenient, Gorton said he would give the pair the chance to withdraw their guilty pleas or stick with them and accept the judge’s more severe punishments.

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Sentencing is set for Aug. 21. It was not clear if the judge would decide on whether to sign off on the plea deals before then.

There are reasons to think he could have concerns with the proposed punishments. Gorton has already sentenced four other parents in the wide-ranging scandal and the shortest sentence has been five months for a mother who paid Singer far less money than Loughlin and Giannulli.

Gorton also ordered Douglas Hodge, a former investment manager executive, to serve nine months in prison, the stiffest sentence handed down in the scandal so far.

The decision by Loughlin and Giannulli to plead guilty came after the couple lost an ambitious legal counterattack earlier this year. They and other parents charged in the case argued that Gorton should dismiss the case or at least toss out incriminating recorded phone calls after notes taken by Singer came to light in which he appeared to claim federal agents pressured him to lie and elicit incriminating yet false evidence against his clients. Gorton opted to do neither.

Singer, who has pleaded guilty to multiple felonies, has been cooperating with investigators since they confronted him in 2018 after getting a tip about his dealings. In all, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts have charged more than 50 parents, coaches, college administrators and others who allegedly participated in Singer’s scheme that targeted wealthy, unscrupulous families desperate to see their children get into USC, Yale, Stanford and other elite universities where Singer had made in-roads.

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While he ran a legitimate college admission consulting business, Singer offered a menu of illicit services to parents willing to overstep ethical and legal lines. For a fee that ran from about $15,000 to $75,000, Singer arranged to have an accomplice take a teen’s college entrance exam or correct their errors. For about $250,000, parents could access what Singer called the “side door” he had built into schools, in which he essentially paid off coaches and athletic administrators for admission spots reserved for athletic recruits.

Many of the accused have pleaded guilty, while about 20 who have persisted in their innocence are slated to go to trial in proceedings scheduled to start later this year and early next year.

On Friday, prosecutors announced that yet another parent had been charged in the case and has agreed to plead guilty. Under the terms of a plea deal, Peter Dameris, 60, of Pacific Palisades, will plead guilty to using $300,000 in bribery payments to sneak his son into Georgetown University as a bogus tennis player.

While all the parents in the case came from rarefied, privileged circles of one sort or another, the sheen of fame and glamour on Loughlin and Giannulli led to outsized fascination — and ire — from the public.

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In April 2019, Loughlin’s fans and detractors lined the sidewalk outside the federal courthouse in Boston where she made her initial appearance. Since then, supermarket tabloids, citing unnamed sources said to be close to the actress, offered near-weekly updates on her state of mind, her relationship with her daughters and other salacious, unfounded rumors.


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