Lori Loughlin, husband Mossimo Giannulli agree to plead guilty to charges in college admissions scandal

Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli agreed Thursday to plead guilty to conspiracy charges in the nation’s college admissions scandal after maintaining their innocence for more than a year.

The celebrity couple will each plead guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud as part of separate plea agreements with federal prosecutors.

Headlining the blockbuster scandal, Loughlin and Giannulli were accused last year of paying $500,000 in bribes to the mastermind of a nationwide admissions scheme, Rick Singer, to get their two daughters accepted into the University of Southern California as fake crew recruits.

They will now become the 33rd and 34th defendants to plead guilty out of 53 charged in the sprawling “Varsity Blues” scandal that also includes actress Felicity Huffman and a who’s who of wealthy investors, attorneys, developers and other parent defendants. 

Loughlin, 55, former star of the television series “Full House,” would serve two months in prison, pay a fine of $150,000, serve two years of supervised release and undertake 100 hours of community service if the deal is accepted by a federal judge.

The deal calls for Giannulli, 56, to serve five months in prison, pay a $250,000 fine and have two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service. 

The plea hearing for the couple is set before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton via video conference to Boston federal court amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the scheme, Loughlin and Giannulli sent fake crew recruiting profiles to Singer that included made up credentials, medals and even photos of one of their daughters on a rowing machine. Neither daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Giannulli, are currently enrolled at USC.

In an email to his accountant in 2017, Giannulli wrote: “Good news my daughter… is in (U)SC … bad is I had to work the system.”

Under the plea agreement, neither Loughlin nor Giannulli would plead guilty to bribery and money laundering charges that they also faced. Each charge could have brought them lengthier prison terms.

Loughlin and Giannulli were among a group of parents set to be the first to go to trial in the admissions case in October. But their guilty pleas leave just 12 parents still fighting charges in the case.

Attorneys for the couple had mounted a vigorous defense seeking dismissal of the case, arguing Loughlin and Giannulli believed they were making “legitimate donations” to USC, not bribing college officials. 

They also pointed to notes that Singer, a college consultant from Newport Beach, California, made on his iPhone after discussions had had with FBI investigators on Oct. 2, 2018 about recorded phone calls they directed him to make to parents who were his clients.

Singer was cooperating with the FBI at the time. He wrote that agents told him to lie and get his clients to restate they were making bribes to college officials – counter to what he claimed he actually told them before they paid him to get their children into college.

Gorton wrote in April that Singer’s allegations were “serious and disturbing,” but he did not rule whether to dismiss the case.

Loughlin and Giannulli will become the 23rd and 24th parent to plead guilty in the admissions scheme. All but one parent has received prison time. Sentences have ranged from two weeks to nine months.

The longest belongs to Douglas Hodge, former CEO of Pimco, who was sentenced to nine months in prison for paying $850,000 over more than a decade to get four of his children into either USC or Georgetown University as fake athletic recruits.

Huffman, former star in “Desperate Housewives,” was sentenced to two weeks in prison last September for paying Singer $15,000 to have one of his associates correct answers on her daughter’s SAT exam to inflate her score. She was released from a federal prison in California after 11 days.

In recent months, the college admissions scandal has collided with the coronavirus pandemic, forcing hearings of all defendants to take place electronically on Zoom.

Attorneys for one defendant, parent Elizabeth Henriquez, asked the judge spare her prison because of a preexisting health condition and the risk that COVID-19 could present in prison. But Gorton sentenced her for seven months in prison anyway. The judge said he would reconsider the sentence if the pandemic doesn’t improve by June 30.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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