Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin face up to 20 years behind bars for their alleged involvement in the college admissions scandal. But can they avoid doing time?
When Felicity Huffman, 56, and Lori Loughlin, 54, were indicted in the college admissions scandal on March 12, there were two major questions on the lips of fans and showbiz industry insiders alike: Will they do prison time? And, if so, how much? Given that the former Desperate Housewives star and the Fuller House actress were both facing federal charges for allegedly conspiring to bribe their kids’ way into elite colleges, both are fair questions.
Felicity and Lori both face up to two decades behind bars for conspiracy to commit mail fraud. The Justice Department is accusing Huffman of paying $15,000 to participate in a “college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her oldest daughter,” Sofia Grace Macy, 18, according to legal documents. Meanwhile, Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, 55, were arrested for both allegedly paying $500,000 in “bribes” to have their daughters Olivia Jade, 19, and Isabella, 20, “designated as recruits to the USC crew team.”
Given that the Justice Department has submitted emails and telephone transcripts, how can these actresses avoid significant prison time? California state criminal attorney, Elon Berk, says that it’s possible. Here’s how:
HL: How does this process work?
Berk: “This is how the federal government prosecutes all of their cases. The potential sentence is high for any case that federal prosecutors are working on and the federal sentencing guidelines are pretty harsh. Federal prosecutors use that leverage in order to get witnesses to cooperate.
“Once a witness agrees to cooperate they sit down with federal agents and the U.S. Attorney’s Office and answer questions. Generally, they’re not promised that they won’t go to jail if they cooperate.
“The promise is that, at the time of sentencing, prosecutors will make a motion for what’s called a ‘downward departure’ meaning to reduce the sentencing guidelines by a certain level based on their level of cooperation. That cooperation has to be substantial. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to testify against somebody but the more they do, the more benefit they receive.”
HL: Could Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman avoid jail time by cooperating and what kind of plea deal is feasible for them?
Berk: “You don’t know what you’re going to get until a judge sentences you. In a federal court, the judge is not a party to any plea agreement. A judge can go above or below the sentencing guidelines and do whatever they want to do. So, even if Lori and Felicity were to work out a deal, that deal would still be up in the air until the judge actually sentences them.
“They can work out a plea deal where they might work out an agreement for their culpability in the case. In that agreement it will state that the defendant is free to argue other factors in order to have a judge rule below the sentencing guidelines. The government will then make a motion to the court, explaining that Felicity or Lori cooperated and will recommend a level of reduction.”
HL: How might prosecutors approach Lori and Felicity to try and get them to cooperate?
Berk: “Federal prosecutors could contact Lori and Felicity’s attorneys and explain that they are interested in their client’s cooperation. They might explain that Lori and Felicity are not their primary targets in order to get them to cooperate against a ‘heavy’ defendant. A ‘heavy’ defendant is one who is more involved in setting up this scheme and who prosecutors might be more interested in convicting.”
Both Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin are due back in court, in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 29, according to Deadline.