After Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were accused of allegedly committing fraud to get their kids into college, two top criminal lawyers explain exclusively how much jail time they could face if convicted.
UPDATE: Lori Loughlin appeared in a Los Angeles federal courtroom on March 13 where Judge Steve Kim set her bail at $1,000,000 on the conspiracy to commit mail fraud charges related to the college bribery scheme, per our sister site Variety. Her husband Mossimo Giannulli, who is also charged in the case received the same bail amount. The couple made bail by securing home and other assets as bond. Judge Kim reluctantly allowed Lori to her keep her passport and has permitted her to travel to Canada after Lori’s attorney argued she has committed to film projects in Vancouver in April and May, as well as a series set to begin in July. Judge Kim is allowing her to travel there only as long as the court is made aware of her destinations and lengths of her stays.
UPDATE 2: As the college admissions bribery scandal unfolded on March 12, Lori’s 19-year-old daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli spent the night aboard the yacht of the Chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees Rick Caruso in the Bahamas per TMZ. She is friends with the LA billionaire’s daughter Gianna and was there with pals for spring break. “My daughter and a group of students left for spring break prior to the government’s announcement yesterday. Once we became aware of the investigation, the young woman decided it would be in her best interests to return home,” Caruso told the site about Olivia. He stressed that it is not up to him but USC’s president as to what the YouTube star’s fate with the University is following the bribery scandal.
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were accused of being among 50 people involved in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scam, and have both been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud, according to court paperwork. Two top criminal attorneys explained to HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY what could happen to the stars, should they be convicted of the crimes they have been alleged to have carried out to get their children into prestigious universities.
“What I would say is that once someone is involved in a conspiracy, they are liable for the crimes committed by their co-conspirators,” Massachusetts state criminal defense attorney Edward Molari told us. “In this case, Ms. Huffman and Ms. Laughlin are alleged to have conspired to commit money laundering, mail, and wire fraud offenses. Each of those offenses carries a maximum of 20 years, and fines of not more than $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved.” Molari stressed that the maximum sentence does not necessarily reflect what the court could determine as an appropriate sentence. “Jail is always a possibility in a criminal case, but I would not say it is a foregone conclusion,” he explained.
According to authorities, the investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a large group of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to boost their kids’ chances of getting into elite universities, namely Georgetown University, Stanford University, Yale, UCLA, the University of San Diego, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas, and Wake Forest.
The parents allegedly paid people to take tests for their children, bribed test administrators to skew SAT results, and bribed college coaches to falsely claim they were gifted athletes, according to the court docs, which were unsealed on March 12. Prosecutors allege that the scheme was headed by William “Rick” Singer, the founder of a for-profit college preparation business in Newport Beach, California. Singer pleaded guilty on the 12th to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. “I am absolutely responsible for it,” Singer told US. District Judge Rya W. Zobel, according to NBC News. “I put everything in place. I put all the people in place and made the payments directly.”
Fuller House star Louglin, and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, reportedly paid bribes totaling $500,000 to get her daughter into USC as a member of the crew team, according to the court docs. According to the documents, her daughter never rowed, and Loughlin told a cooperating witness during a phone call, recorded by the FBI, that she was going to arrange to have her daughter photographed on a rowing machine. In an email, Louglin reportedly said she would keep the scheme “hush hush,” the court documents allege.
Huffman reportedly paid $15,000, prosecutors say, to get one of her daughters unlimited time to take the SAT. It’s unclear if her husband, actor William H. Macy, was aware of the alleged scheme; he is only named as “Huffman’s husband” in the papers. Massachusetts state criminal defense attorney Dakota Martin echoed Molari, telling HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY, that, the penalty for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, which Huffman and Loughlin are both charged with, could get them “up to 20 years in prison, a fine (up to $1 million if a financial institution is involved), or both.”
“Federal charges are always serious and unlike state court, they don’t charge people unless they have a very strong case,” Martin continued. “Here, [the documents suggest that the FBI] has recordings of phone calls with Ms. Huffman discussing the arrangement, including how the organization planned to conceal the $15,000 as a charitable donation. It looks like Mrs. Huffman’s husband was not an active participant so they simply didn’t charge him. It may have been tactical, or they simply chose the stronger case.
“How this works out for Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and the others, depends very much on whether or not their lawyers can get ahead of this prosecution… With the right lawyers jail time is not a forgone conclusion, but it’s unlikely any participant will get out of this unscathed. I’d expect a range from hefty fines to house arrest and jail for some participants.”