BOSTON — “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin was sentenced to two months in jail Friday for her part in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, with the sentencing judge saying he was “dumbfounded” by her “gall.”
Loughlin pleaded guilty along with her husband to paying $500,000 to college admissions consultant Rick Singer to get her daughters into the University of Southern California as recruits for the crew team even though neither daughter rowed.
“You had more money than you could possibly need, a beautiful home in sunny southern California, a fairy tale life,” said U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton.
“And yet here you are, a convicted felon. And for what? For the inexplicable desire to have even more,” Gorton scolded her, calling her actions “avarice taken to the highest degree.”
Loughlin was also given a $150,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and two years of supervised release as part of a plea deal with the government.
“I made an awful decision,” Loughlin told the court. “I thought I was acting out of love for my children, but in reality it only undermined my daughters’ abilities and accomplishments.”
Loughlin, who sat unsmiling in a white blouse, acknowledged that she also “exacerbated existing inequalities in society.”
“I am truly, profoundly and deeply sorry and I am ready to face the consequences and make amends,” she added.
Earlier Friday her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was sentenced to five months in prison, a $250,000 fine, 250 hours of community service and two years of supervised release under a separate plea agreement.
Giannulli was more culpable than Loughlin because he “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,” according to the government.
Loughlin was accused of going along with the scheme and staging photos of her daughters using a rowing machine.
“This type of behavior is not simply overzealous parenting,” said prosecutor Kristen Kearney, adding that it reflects “a privileged and entitled attitude for which prison is the only answer.”
The prosecution said the plea-deal sentences are comparable to those of other prominent parents charged in the scheme while reflecting the couple’s “decision to allow their children to become complicit in crime.”
Evidence emerged that the daughters, who were minors at the time, willfully participated in the staged photos and were copied on emails between their parents and Singer.
“Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman had a considerably lighter sentence; she spent 11 days in jail late last year after pleading guilty to paying $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s SAT exam, in addition to a $30,000 fine and 250 hours of community service. But Huffman didn’t involve her daughter in the cheating.
In all, at least 53 people have been charged with participating in the scandal in which parents paid Singer more than $25 million between 2011 and 2018.
Loughlin and her husband resisted pleading guilty for more than a year before agreeing to the deals in May, and there has been speculation that they finally accepted a plea bargain in order to spare their daughters, Isabella and Olivia Jade, from being charged themselves or being called to testify against them.
Olivia Jade is a former Instagram and YouTube star who had some 2 million followers before the scam came to light. The scandal also caused Loughlin to be dropped from the final season of “Fuller House” on Netflix as well as “When Calls the Heart” on the Hallmark Channel.
Loughlin “lost the acting career she had spent 40 years building” and became “the undisputed face of the national scandal,” defense lawyer William Trach of Latham & Watkins told the court, noting that she was raised in a working-class family that lived paycheck-to-paycheck and didn’t go to college herself.
Loughlin is a charitable person who once paid a friend’s mortgage after he developed cancer and has been “devastated” by the harm to her relationship with her daughters, Trach claimed.
But prosecutor Justin O’Connell argued that public humiliation in the media was no reason not to send Loughlin to jail. A waiter who loses his job after committing a crime suffers just as much proportionately, he said, and “the waiter and the actress should be treated the same.”
Loughlin pleaded guilty to mail and wire fraud. Gorton noted that there was no direct financial loss caused by the fraud but “there certainly was a loss to the overall educational system in this country.”
“We can only hope,” he continued, “that you will spend the rest of your charmed life … making amends to the system that you have harmed.”
Earlier in the day Gorton had harsh words for Loughlin’s husband at his own sentencing hearing.
“I see lots of drug dealers, gun runners and people who have committed violent crimes” who are “living in squalid conditions and didn’t know better,” Gorton said. “You certainly did know better.”
“You were not stealing bread to feed your family,” Gorton continued. “You have no excuse.”
The plea deals were unusual in that they were contingent on Gorton imposing the recommended sentences. If Gorton had rejected the sentences as inadequate, Loughlin and her husband could have withdrawn their pleas.
Gorton, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, “has a reputation for issuing stronger sentences than his peers,” USA Today reported in 2019.
The sentencing hearing was held via a Zoom conference due to the pandemic.
— By Thomas F. Harrison, CNS