NEW YORK: American actress Lori Loughlin on Friday accepted potential prison time by pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud in connection with her role in a sprawling college admissions scandal.
Loughlin – best known for her role as Aunt Becky in the 1980s-90s hit sitcom “Full House” – and her husband, designer Mossimo Giannulli, was among 50 people indicted in an elaborate scam to secure spots for already privileged children at prestigious US universities.
The pair – both dressed in dark attire – appeared stoic as they switched previous “not guilty” pleas in a virtual hearing with a Massachusetts federal judge, accepting a deal with prosecutors that could significantly lighten their punishments.
The proceedings took place via Zoom video conference, due to the coronavirus pandemic that has shut courthouses across the United States.
Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, were accused of paying US$500,000 to gain admission for their two daughters at the University of Southern California as recruits to the crew team – a sport neither had ever trained in.
Loughlin was among the most high-profile personalities indicted in the case. She and her husband were initially charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, bribery and transfer funds in the far-reaching scam.
Those charges could carry penalties of up to 45 years in prison.
If federal judge Nathaniel Gorton accepts their pleas, prosecutors will drop the charges of money laundering and bribery, and recommend a sentence of two months in prison for Loughlin and five for Giannulli.
Both would face fines ranging from a recommended US$150,000 to US$250,000, along with supervised release and community service.
Their sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug 21.
The ringleader behind the college admissions scam, William “Rick” Singer, who authorities say was paid about US$25 million to bribe coaches and university administrators, has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with authorities.
Actress Felicity Huffman of “Desperate Housewives” fame was released last October from prison, after serving 11 days of a two-week sentence at a low-security California facility for her role in the scam.
She had pleaded guilty during a tearful court appearance to paying US$15,000 to boost her daughter’s SAT college entrance exam score.
Friday’s proceedings were a dramatic shift in the case that saw Loughlin and Giannulli spend more than a year insisting on their innocence, saying that Singer led them to believe the funds were not for bribes but a donation of sorts to the university.
Friday’s Zoom hearing lasted approximately 45 minutes, with Loughlin and Giannulli appearing separately alongside their lawyers.
It was peppered by technical hiccups. At one point, the court reporter stepped in to get the hearing back on track, telling the voiceless judge: “You’re on mute, your honour.”