(ABC News) — Lori Loughlin and her husband lived an advantageous, “fairy tale life” and yet still “bribed their daughters’ way into college,” a federal judge said Friday as he sentenced her to two months in prison.
The “Full House” actress appeared choked up as she apologized.
“I am truly, profoundly and deeply sorry. I am ready to face the consequences and make amends,” Loughlin said. “I made an awful decision. I allowed myself to be swayed from my moral compass.”
Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli was sentenced earlier Friday to five months in prison.
The defense cast the actress as a bit player in the scheme.
“She’s profoundly sorry,” defense attorney BJ Trach said. “Of all the parents charged in this investigation, not a single one had less involvement.”
Prosecutors agreed Giannulli was the more active parent in the scheme, but Assistant US Attorney Justin O’Connell called Loughlin “fully complicit.”
“Loughlin agreed that fake athletic profiles would be made for her daughters so they could be recruited as coxswains in a sport they did not play,” O’Connell said.
Loughlin, appearing on a Zoom call for her sentencing hearing in a white button-down blouse, wore her hair straight and kept her gaze focused at the screen when she wasn’t delivering her allocution.
Not content with her family’s distinct advantages, “Loughlin opted to cheat,” O’Connell said. “She stole two admissions spots from more deserving students.”
Judge Nathaniel Gorton said he received two letters of support for Loughlin but the defense declined to submit a sentencing memorandum prior to the hearing.
Gorton declared himself “dumfounded” by Loughlin’s crime.
“Here you are an admired, successful actor with a long-lasting marriage, with two healthy resilient children, more money than you could possibly need, a fairy tale life. Yet you stand before me a convicted felon. And for what,” Gorton asked. “For the inexplicable desire to grasp even more.”
In sentencing Giannulli, the judge called their actions “a breathtaking crime on the nation’s higher education system.”
The couple had paid $500,000 to scheme mastermind Rick Singer to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits, even though neither of them rowed. Friday’s sentencing comes 17 months after the two were arrested.
“There is no mystery about the outcome,” Gorton said while sentencing Giannulli, noting the defense made no attempt to argue with the government’s recommended sentence of five months in prison, two years of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a $250,000 fine.
Of the two parents, prosecutors portrayed Giannulli as more active in the scheme.
“Giannulli’s conduct in this case evidenced a complete disregard from right and wrong,” Assistant US Attorney Kristen Kearney. “He went ahead with this scheme not once, but twice.”
Giannulli, 57, “exposed his daughters to the scheme and allowed them to become complicit in it,” Kearney said, noting how Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli were photographed on a rowing machine as part of phony coxswain profiles and encouraged to keep their admission to USC “hush, hush.”
One of the girls was instructed on “how to conceal the scheme from her high school counselor,” noted a prosecutors’ sentencing memo. According to the memo, Loughlin called the counselor a “weasel.” Giannulli used an expletive and called him “nosey.”
Loughlin and Giannulli each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud. Neither submitted papers to the judge ahead of sentencing to try and influence his decision.
“This was not simply overzealous parenting,” Kearney said. “It is criminal and deserving of the proposed five months imprisonment.”
Giannulli, appearing by video conference, addressed the judge briefly:
“I deeply regret the harm that my actions have caused my daughters, my wife and others. I take full responsibility for my conduct.”
The judge scolded Giannulli for a crime “motivated by hubris.”
“You’re an informed, smart, successful businessman,” Gorton said. “You were not stealing bread to feed your family. You have no excuse.”
No argument from the defense.
“It’s an appropriate sentence when you balance Mr. Giannulli’s life with the crime he has been convicted of,” defense attorney Sean Berkowitz said. “He sits here today humbled.”
Berkowitz cast Giannulli as a “good man” who made mistakes.
“He regrets deeply bringing his wife into the scheme. His children have been bullied both on social media and in person in a way disproportionate to other children in this scheme,” Berkowitz said. “His family has been the face of the scandal and the crisis.”
In handing down the sentence, Judge Gorton said the crime caused “no specific, calculable loss to USC.” However, the judge said there was “certainly a loss to the overall education system of this country.”
They were among 50 suspects charged in the investigation dubbed Varsity Blues, which found wealthy parents who cheated college applications and entrance exams to get their children into elite schools. In some cases, parents bribed coaches who falsified students’ athletics histories, including an instance where a real athlete’s photo was manipulated to look like one of the students, prosecutors said.
In pleading guilty, Loughlin and Giannulli dropped previous assertions that they believed their payments were legitimate donations. The couple maintained their innocence for more than a year, repeatedly pleading not guilty as prosecutors added charges, including conspiracy to commit fraud, bribery and money laundering. They first faced a federal judge in April 2019, when Loughlin was seen smiling, signing autographs and greeting fans.
The couple was slated to go to trial in October for their charges. Had the case gone to trial in the fall, as planned, prosecutors said they would have used recorded telephone calls, documents, emails and witness testimony to prove the couple’s guilt.