Full House actor Lori Loughlin must serve two months in prison and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, must serve five months for paying half a million dollars in bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as rowing recruits, a federal judge ruled Friday.
U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton accepted Loughlin's plea deal with prosecutors in a hearing held via videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic after sentencing her husband in an earlier hearing.
Both Loughlin and Giannulli were ordered to surrender Nov. 19.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin O'Connell said Loughlin wasn't content with the advantages her children already had thanks to their wealth and "was focused on getting what she wanted, no matter how and no matter the cost." He said prison time was was necessary to send a message that "everyone, no matter your status, is accountable in our justice system."
Loughlin appeared calm, showing little emotion as her attorney BJ Trach said she is "profoundly sorry" for her actions.
'I made an awful decision'
But when it was her turn to address the judge, she forced back tears as she apologized.
"I made an awful decision. I went along with a plan to give my daughters an unfair advantage in the college admissions process and in doing so I ignored my intuition and allowed myself to be swayed from my moral compass," Loughlin said.
"I have great faith in God and I believe in redemption and I will do everything in my power to redeem myself and use this experience as a catalyst to do good."
Trach said Loughlin has begun volunteering at a Los Angels elementary school, working with children with special needs.
Describing the "devastating" impact the charges have had on the 56-year-old actor's family life and career, Trach said: "Lori lost the acting career she spent 40 years building."
Earlier, Giannulli told the judge he "deeply" regrets the harm that his actions have caused his daughters, wife and others.
"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 in which he showed little emotion.
Unlike most plea agreements, in which the judge remains free to decide the defendant's sentence, Loughlin's and Giannulli's proposed prison terms were binding should the judge accept the deals.
In accepting the plea deals, Gorton said the prison terms are "sufficient but not greater than necessary punishment under the circumstances."
Gorton scolded Giannulli for what he described as "breathtaking fraud" made possible by his wealth and privilege.
"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.
Canadians previously sentenced
Under the plea deal, Giannulli will pay a $250,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service. Loughlin's deal calls for her to pay a $150,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service.
The couple are among nearly 30 prominent parents, including some Canadians like Vancouver businessman and former Canadian Football League player David Sidoo, who have admitted to charges in the scheme, which involved hefty bribes to get undeserving kids into college with rigged test scores or fake athletic credentials, authorities said. Ten parents are still fighting the charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney said Giannulli displayed "a complete disregard for right and wrong" and a "privileged and entitled attitude."
"This disrespect of right and wrong deserves a meaningful sentence of imprisonment."
Lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli had insisted for more than a year that the couple believed their payments were "legitimate donations." They also accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove the couple's innocence because it would undermine their case.
Loughlin and Giannulli'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.
Couple funnelled money through sham charity
Prosecutors told the judge this week that Giannulli deserves a tougher sentence because he was "the more active participant in the scheme."
The couple funnelled money through a sham charity operated by college admissions consultant Rick Singer to get their two daughters into USC as crew recruits, even though neither girl was a rower, authorities said.
Investigators had recorded phone calls and emails showing the couple worked with Singer to secure their daughters' admission with fake athletic profiles depicting them 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 the girls "to become complicit in crime," instructing them to pose on rowing machines for photos and warning their younger daughter not to say too much to her high school counsellor to avoid getting caught.
When the counsellor 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 counsellor 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.
Loughlin responded: "This is wonderful news! [high-five emoji]," according to court filings.
Singer, who has also pleaded guilty, was expected to testify against them had the couple gone to trial.
Other parents who've been sent to prison for participating in the scam include Desperate Housewives actor 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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