Judge Accepts Giannulli Plea Deal in College Bribery Scheme
BOSTON — Fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli will be sentenced to five months in prison after a federal judge accepted his plea deal with prosecutors on charges that he paid half a million dollars in bribes to get his two daughters into the University of Southern California as rowing recruits.
“I deeply regret the harm that my actions have caused my daughters, my wife and others,” Giannulli said in a short statement during the hearing, showing little emotion. “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.”
His wife, “Full House” star Lori 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.
Unlike most plea agreements, in which the judge remains free to decide the defendant’s sentence, Loughlin’s and Giannulli’s proposed prison terms were binding if accepted.
In accepting Giannulli’s plea deal, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said the prison sentence stipulated “is sufficient but not greater than necessary punishment under the circumstances.”
Under the plea deal, Giannulli will 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.
The famous couple’s sentencing comes three months after they reversed course and admitted to participating in the college admissions cheating scheme that has laid bare the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities.
‘A Complete Disregard for Right and Wrong’
They are among nearly 30 prominent parents to plead guilty in the case, which federal prosecutors dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” It uncovered hefty bribes to get undeserving kids into college with rigged test scores or fake athletic credentials.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney said Giannulli displayed “a complete disregard for right and wrong,” and a “privileged and entitled attitude.”
“This disrespect of right and wrong deserves a meaningful sentence of imprisonment,” she said.
Giannulli’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, described his client’s actions as “out of character.”
Loughlin and Giannulli had insisted for more than a year that they believed their payments were “legitimate donations” and accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove the couple’s innocence because it would undermine their case.
Their 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.”
Defense May Be Hoping That Loughlin and Giannulli Can Avoid Prison Altogether
Both Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to commit fraud. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges of money laundering and federal programs bribery that were added after the case was filed.
Experts have said the defense may be hoping that Loughlin and Giannulli can avoid prison altogether and serve their punishments at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Gorton, known in the courthouse for handing out tough sentences, has denied requests by other parents to serve their sentences in home confinement.
The couple had not made any public statements since their arrest and — unlike every other parent sentenced to 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.”
“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 college admissions consultant Rick 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 if they had gone to trial.
When the Counselor Began Questioning Their Crew Credentials, Giannulli Angrily Confronted the Counselor
Investigators had recorded phone calls and emails showing the couple worked with Singer to get their daughters into USC with fake athletic profiles depicting them 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 the girls “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 to avoid getting caught.
When the counselor began questioning their crew credentials, Giannulli angrily confronted the counselor 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.
Loughlin responded: “This is wonderful news! (high-five emoji),” according to court filings.
Among the high-profile parents who have been 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.