Saturday Entertainment: Loughlin, Giannulli get prison time in college bribery plot

BOSTON (AP) — Apologizing publicly for the first time for crimes their lawyers insisted for months they didn’t commit, “Full House” star Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, were sentenced to prison Friday for using their wealth and privilege to cheat their daughters’ way into the college of their choice.

The two-month prison sentence for Loughlin and five-month term for Giannulli bring to a close the legal saga for the highest-profile parents ensnared in the college admissions bribery scheme — a scandal that rocked the U.S. educational system and laid bare the lengths some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities.

Fighting back tears, Loughlin told the judge her actions “helped exacerbate existing inequalities in society” and pledged to do everything in her power to use her experience as a “catalyst to do good.” Her lawyer said she began volunteering with special needs students at an elementary school.

FILE – In this April 3, 2019 file photo, actress Lori Loughlin, front, and husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli, left, depart federal court in Boston after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. The famous couple pleaded guilty to charges in May 2020, and are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

“I take full responsibility for my conduct. I am ready to accept the consequences and move forward, with the lessons I’ve learned from this experience,” Giannulli said in a short statement.

“You were not stealing bread to feed your family. You have no excuse for your crime and that makes it all the more blameworthy,” the judge told Giannulli before officially sentencing him. Giannulli was ordered to surrender Nov. 19.

Under the plea deal, Giannulli will also pay a $250,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service. Loughlin’s calls for her to pay a $150,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service. Unlike most plea agreements, in which the judge remains free to decide the defendant’s sentence, the terms were binding if accepted.

The famous couple’s sentencing comes three months after they reversed course and admitted to participating in the college admissions cheating scheme that has laid bare the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities.

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They are among nearly 30 prominent parents to plead guilty in what federal prosecutors dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” Authorities uncovered hefty bribes to get undeserving kids into college with rigged test scores or fake athletic credentials.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney said Giannulli displayed a “privileged and entitled attitude.”

“This disrespect of right and wrong deserves a meaningful sentence of imprisonment,” she said.

For more than a year, Loughlin and Giannulli insisted that they believed their payments were “legitimate donations” and accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove their innocence.

The couple’s about-face came shortly after the judge rejected their bid to dismiss the case over allegations of misconduct by federal agents.

The case shattered the clean image of Loughlin, who gained fame for her role as the wholesome Aunt Becky in the sitcom “Full House” that ran from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, and later became queen of the Hallmark channel with her holiday movies and the series “When Calls the Heart.”

Other parents sentenced to prison in the case have urged the judge to allow them to serve their terms in home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Gorton — known in the courthouse for handing out tough sentences — has denied such requests.

Before Friday, the couple had not made any public statements since their arrest and — unlike every other parent sentenced so far in the case — they did not submit letters expressing regret or notes of support from family and friends to the judge ahead of their sentencing.

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Prosecutors said Giannulli deserves a tougher sentence because he was “the more active participant in the scheme,” while Loughlin “took a less active role, but was nonetheless fully complicit.”

Giannulli’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, described him as a fiercely devoted father who “ignored alarm bells” and ”red flags” when the admissions consultant who authorities say was at the center of the plot, Rick Singer, suggested cheating the system.

“He regrets deeply bringing his wife into the scheme, he regrets deeply the consequences this has had for his family. His children have been bullied both in social media and in person,” Berokwitz said. “The family has been the face of the crisis and the scandal.”

The couple funneled money through a sham charity operated by Singer to get their two daughters into USC as crew recruits, even though neither was a rower, authorities said. Singer, who has also pleaded guilty, was expected to testify against them had they gone to trial.

Investigators recorded phone calls and emails showing the couple worked with Singer to secure admission with fake athletic profiles depicting their daughters as star rowers. In one email, Singer told Loughlin and Giannulli he needed a picture of their older daughter on a rowing machine in workout clothes “like a real athlete.”

Prosecutors said the couple allowed their children “to become complicit in crime,” instructing them to pose on rowing machines for photos and warning their younger daughter not too say too much to her high school counselor.

When the counselor began questioning their crew credentials, Giannulli angrily confronted him and asked why he was “trying to ruin or get in the way of their opportunities,” the counselor wrote in notes detailed in court documents.

After the couple successfully bribed their younger daughter’s way into USC, Singer forwarded them a letter saying she was let in because of her “potential to make a significant contribution to the intercollegiate athletic program,” prosecutors wrote.

According to court filings, Loughlin responded: “This is wonderful news! (high-five emoji).”

Among the high-profile parents sent to prison for participating in the scam is “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman. She served nearly two weeks behind bars late last year after she admitted to paying $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s entrance exam answers.

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News Talk Florida Staff