In March, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts revealed an audacious scheme in which a California consultant named William “Rick” Singer helped children of wealthy parents obtain fraudulent SAT or ACT test scores and pose as athletic recruits in an effort get into top schools through what Singer called “the side door.” Singer, the admitted mastermind, has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges in a case prosecutors nicknamed Varsity Blues.
Prosecutors say Loughlin and Giannulli paid a total of $500,000 in 2016 and 2017 for Singer to facilitate admission of their two daughters to USC as purported crew recruits. The couple have pleaded not guilty to two counts: conspiracy to commit money laundering; and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud.
Tuesday’s hearing before Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley was scheduled to discuss issues related to a rule of criminal procedure that aims to ensure defendants have effective legal representation even if they share an attorney. Loughlin and Giannulli are both represented by attorneys from the firm Latham & Watkins. Until recently, Latham & Watkins also represented USC, which has a stake in the case. A trial date has not yet been set.
Loughlin became widely known for her role as Aunt Becky on the ABC television sitcom “Full House.” Giannulli made a name for himself designing clothes.
The hearing was merely procedural, but the celebrity defendants drew attention from television journalists and courthouse visitors. A half-hour before the hearing, news helicopters droned overhead and gawkers were snapping pictures of the scene from the street.
Loughlin and Giannulli walked quietly into the courtroom with three attorneys. He wore a navy suit, a blue-and-white striped shirt and blue tie. She wore a trim gray sweater with a slate, knee-length dress.
Before taking her seat, Loughlin leaned over to the prosecutors, shaking their hands and saying, “Nice to see you again.”
The couple sat mostly still, giving soft, one-word yes-or-no answers as Kelley explored potential conflicts of interest and made sure they understood risks and rights.
At the end, they signed documents affirming their legal team. One of their attorneys, Sean M. Berkowitz, told reporters: “We’re not going to be saying anything.” They left in a silver Ford Explorer.
Of 51 people charged in the case, 34 are parents. Fifteen parents have pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy, including actress Felicity Huffman, who prosecutors said paid $15,000 to help one of her daughters get a phony SAT score.
The rest of the parents, including Loughlin and Giannulli, are fighting the charges.
Legal experts say the parents face a threat of prison time, a risk that could escalate for those convicted after a trial. Prosecutors often recommend more lenient punishment for those who plead guilty.
The maximum prison term for fraud conspiracy is 20 years. But experts predict any sentences for parents caught in the Varsity Blues scandal would be far shorter.
Anderson reported from Washington.