The celebrity couple are among nearly 30 prominent parents to plead guilty for participating in a college bribery scheme that has laid bare the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities
Boston: Fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli was sentenced Friday to five months behind bars for paying half a million dollars in bribes to get his two daughters into the University of Southern California as rowing recruits.
In the first display of remorse either he or his wife, Full House star Lori Loughlin, have made publicly since their arrest last year, Giannulli showed little emotion as he 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.
Loughlin is expected to be sentenced later Friday after pleading guilty under a deal with prosecutors that calls for her to serve two months in prison.
In accepting Giannulli’s plea deal, US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said the five-month prison term “is 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. 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 bribery scheme that has laid bare the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities.
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 US 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.
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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