Lori Loughlin pleaded ‘not guilty’ to conspiracy charges stemming from ‘Operation Varsity Blues,’ but as a criminal defense expert EXCLUSIVELY tells us, her plan to avoid jail time if convicted has already ‘backfired.’
After being accused of paying half a million dollars to get their kids into USC, Lori Loughlin, 54, and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, 55, pleaded not guilty on April 15 to two charges – conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, per CNN. This move comes after Felicity Huffman, 56, entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud over her role in “Operation Varsity Blues,” aka the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal. Felicity, who allegedly paid $15k to boost her child’s SAT score, will likely not see the inside of a jail cell. As for Lori? Joseph B. Simons, a Boston criminal defense attorney, tells HollywoodLife.com EXCLUSIVELY why it’s “unlikely’ the Fuller House star will get off so easily.
HollywoodLife.com: How might Lori fight these charges?
Joseph B. Simons: “In order to fight her case, Ms. Loughlin could assert a defense that she did not actually cause the money to be sent. She might also defend based on a lack of intent. Either appear difficult based on news reports. The prosecution does not need to prove that she specifically knew her conduct was illegal, only that she intended that the money is transferred related to an activity that was illegal.”
Is there any way for Lori to avoid jail time? How so?
“It seems unlikely at this point that Ms. Loughlin can avoid federal prison. That said, perhaps her attorneys can be creative with suggestions for huge fines, community service, strict probation and/or home confinement.”
How could her plan to plead not guilty possibly backfire?
“Unlike state cases, in federal cases, the best deals are often the first ones offered. In this case, it appears that her decision to plead not guilty has already backfired. She is now facing additional charges that may significantly increase the likelihood – and length – of a prison term if she is convicted.”
Will this definitely go to trial now?
“Not necessarily. Her attorneys may feel the need for additional time to evaluate the potential strength of a trial defense. As a defense attorney, it is my job to fully evaluate the prosecution’s case against my client before advising them regarding a potential guilty plea. It is ultimately up to Ms. Loughlin, but I presume she will be looking to her attorneys for advice.”
If she fights and this goes to trial, how much worse may her sentence be?
“In federal court, you get a benefit to pleading guilty – specifically, the sentencing guidelines give a reduction for a timely guilty plea. It’s an incentive for people to plead guilty, and it often works.”
Will it be a jury trial or will trial just be with a judge?
“If this case goes to trial, it will certainly be a jury trial.”
What happens if they can’t get an impartial jury? (that is, if this will even be a jury trial?)
“They always can get a jury – even in the worst cases, and even with celebrities.”
What might her defense be?
“See above re: lack of intent or that she did not personally transfer the money (or order it to be transferred).”
What’s the next step in the process?
“Her attorneys will likely file discovery requests in order to fully assess the strength of the prosecution’s case. They may seek to challenge items that were not properly authenticated or items that may have been obtained in violation of Ms. Loughlin’s constitutional rights. Once the discovery process is complete, the judge will set a trial date.”
How much time could she be facing now?
“It appears that each of the new charges carries a maximum of 20 years in federal prison. That said, there are complicated sentencing guidelines that are suggested but heavily relied upon when judges hand down a sentence. There are a number of other factors that go into a sentencing decision. Sometimes a case is so strong that it makes sense to accept the guilty plea, but fight like hell for a reduced sentence. The sentencing itself is often a source for intense litigation, especially in federal court.”
Can Lori still enter a plea agreement at this point?
“A plea agreement is probably still in the realm of possibility. I’ve taken cases to trial where a plea is offered even up to the first day of trial.”
What’s the most likely outcome?
“If I were betting on this case, I would put my money on a prison sentence of a few years, after a guilty plea.”