Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were sentenced Friday to spend months in federal prison for participating in a fraudulent scheme to help their daughters get into the University of Southern California as phony crew team recruits.
Loughlin was given a term of two months, and Giannulli five months, resolving one of the most closely watched cases in the college admissions bribery scandal that rocked higher education last year.
Each had pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy after admitting in May that they took part in a scheme to pay $500,000 to facilitate admission to USC for their two daughters in an audacious scam, from 2016 to 2018, that involved fabricating stories about accomplishments in competitive rowing that were entirely false. The daughters, prosecutors said, had no authentic credentials in the sport.
Loughlin and Giannulli were the 21st and 22nd parents to be sentenced in the scandal, according to the office of the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. In all, 55 people have been charged with crimes involving cheating on admission tests or paying bribes to college athletic officials and others to subvert the admissions process.
The celebrity couple from Los Angeles are among the parents caught in the investigation known as Operation Varsity Blues. Loughlin became known for playing Aunt Becky in the ABC television series “Full House,” which aired in the 1980s and ’90s.
In March 2019, federal prosecutors announced charges against them and others in connection with a corrupt college admissions counselor named William “Rick” Singer. He has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other crimes and is cooperating in the investigation.
U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton, whose chambers are in a Boston courthouse, held two sentencing hearings through a Zoom videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gorton adhered to agreements the couple made with prosecutors as they pleaded guilty. In the afternoon, he sentenced Loughlin to two months in prison and two years of supervised release, with a $150,000 fine and an order to devote 100 hours to community service.
The judge expressed bewilderment at Loughlin’s crime. She had led “a fairy-tale life,” he told her, “yet you stand before me a convicted felon. And for what? For the inexplicable desire to grasp even more.”
Gorton said Loughlin had “participated in the corruption of the system of higher education in this country, the bribery of college officials and coaches to let your kids in and turn down two other deserving kids who don’t have all of your advantages.” It was a crime, he said, that could not be condoned.
Loughlin, 56, expressed remorse for what she called “an awful decision” to seek an unfair edge for her daughters. At one point, she seemed to be fighting tears. “Your honor, I am truly, profoundly and deeply sorry,” she said. “I am ready to face the consequences and make amends.” She is due to surrender to authorities in November.
Hours earlier, in the first hearing, the judge ordered Giannulli him to surrender to prison authorities in November for a five-month term. The judge also sentenced him to two years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and 250 hours of community service.
Gorton castigated Giannulli for what he called a “breathtaking fraud.” He added: “You are an informed, smart, successful businessman. You certainly did know better. … You have no excuse for your crime, and that makes it all the more blameworthy.”
Giannulli, 57, of Los Angeles, said he deeply regretted the harm his actions had caused his family. “I take full responsibility for my conduct,” he said.
Prosecutors, in a sentencing memo, laid out details of how the crimes unfolded. They wrote that Giannulli “engaged more frequently with Singer, directed the bribe payments to USC and Singer, and personally confronted his daughter’s high school counselor to prevent the scheme from being discovered, brazenly lying about his daughter’s athletic abilities.”
Loughlin took a less active role, prosecutors wrote, “but was nonetheless fully complicit, eagerly enlisting Singer a second time for her younger daughter, and coaching her daughter not to ‘say too much’ to her high school’s legitimate college counselor, lest he catch on to their fraud.”
In July 2017, prosecutors wrote, Singer emailed Giannulli and Loughlin to request a photograph for their younger daughter’s fake athletic profile. Loughlin replied, according to the memo: “Moss will get this done.”
Later that month, prosecutors wrote, Giannulli emailed Singer a photograph of their younger daughter posing on a rowing machine. Loughlin was copied on the email. That daughter, “like her sister, did not row crew and was not a coxswain,” prosecutors wrote. The daughters were not charged with any crimes. However, USC last year announced they were no longer enrolled at the school.
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The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga contributed to this report.