This week the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts said out loud what everyone already knows: Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are risking longer prison terms in the college admissions cheating scandal than at least some of the parents who have pleaded guilty.
During a TV interview, Andrew Lelling said about Loughlin, who with her husband has pleaded not guilty and is headed for trial, “If she is convicted, I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets by saying we would probably ask for a higher sentence for her than we did for Felicity Huffman. I can’t tell you exactly what that would be.”
Lelling then described Huffman as “the least culpable defendant.”
She “took responsibility almost immediately, she was contrite, did not try to minimize her conduct.,” Lelling said. “I think she handled it in a very classy way.”
Has a U.S. Attorney ever laid out the road map to a plea deal any more clearly than that?
So far 35 parents have been charged. Fifteen have pleaded guilty and six have been sentenced — all of them receiving some prison time from Judge Indira Talwani.
At the low end was Huffman’s two-week sentence. (The DOJ recommended a one-month sentence.) She paid $15,000 to a consultant to increase her daughter’s SAT scores.
At the high end, Agustin Huneeus, a winemaker from California, was sentenced to five months in prison. (The DOJ recommended a 15-month sentence.) Huneeus agreed to pay Rick Singer, the mastermind of the cheating scheme, $250,000 to help one of his daughters get into USC by pretending she was a recruit for the water polo team.
Last month Devin Sloane, the CEO of an LA-based water treatment company, was sentenced to four months in prison. (The DOJ recommended a year and a day in prison.) Sloane paid $250,000 to get his son into USC, also as a fake water polo recruit.
This week Gregory Abbott and his wife, Marcia Abbott, were each sentenced to a month in prison. (The DOJ recommended eight months in prison for each.) They paid $125,000 to cheat on their daughter’s ACT and subject tests to help her get into Duke.
The parents who reached deals with prosecutors were allowed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Honest services fraud typically requires a bribe payer, a bribe taker, and someone harmed by the bribery. As part of the mail and wire fraud statute, honest services fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The parents who haven’t reached plea deals, including Loughlin and Giannulli, still face that fraud-related charge plus a potentially more dangerous count — conspiracy to commit money laundering. The DOJ added the money laundering conspiracy count in a superseding indictment handed down after the fifteen parents had agreed to plead guilty.
A conviction for violating the federal anti-money laundering law through either a substantive offense or a conspiracy is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of a half million dollars or more.
Prosecutors trying to prove a federal money-laundering conspiracy face a low bar. They need to show only that a defendant, working with someone else, was “trying to conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds of unlawful activity.”
Rick Singer, the mastermind who knows everything, is cooperating with the feds.
He pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors are recommending a prison sentence for him “at the low end” of the federal sentencing guidelines range, without specifying (publicly) exactly what that might mean for Singer.
The superseding indictment, which apparently includes some of the fruit of Singer’s cooperation, alleges that Giannulli wired a total of $400,000 to Singer’s “purported” charity in exchange for Singer “facilitating” Giannulli and Loughlin’s two daughters’ admission to USC as crew recruits. Neither daughter actually did crew.
Singer’s fake charity later issued two letters to Loughlin and Giannulli “falsely indicating that ‘no goods or services were exchanged’ for the purported donations of $200,000,” according to the superseding indictment.
Judge Talwani scheduled a status conference in Loughlin and Gianulli’s case for January 17, 2020. Court records indicate that the defendants aren’t required to attend.