Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli to plead guilty in college admissions scandal

Suzy Byrne
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

In a major turn of events, actress Lori Loughlin has flipped to a guilty plea in the college admissions scandal.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Massachusetts made the surprise announcement on Thursday. In a press release, they said the Fuller House star and her clothing designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, will both plead guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with securing the fraudulent admission of their two daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Giannulli, to the University of Southern California as purported athletic recruits. The agreements were signed on Wednesday.

Loughlin will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, while Giannulli will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest-services wire and mail fraud.

Under the terms of Loughlin’s plea agreement, she will receive a sentence of two months in prison, a $150,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 100 hours of community service.

Her signed agreement states, “Defendant expressly and unequivocally admits that she committed that crime, did so knowingly and intentionally, and is in fact guilty of that offense. The U.S. Attorney agrees to dismiss Counts Two and Three of the Fourth Superseding Indictment following the imposition of sentence at the sentencing hearing.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts has updated its website to reflect the plea agreement. (Screenshot: justice.gov/usao-ma)

Giannulli’s agreement states he will serve five months in prison, pay a $250,000 fine and have two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service. 

Both agreements are subject to the court’s approval.

The couple will plead guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton on Friday at 11:30 a.m. ET via videoconference. Per Loughlin’s agreement, her two-month incarceration will begin “no earlier than 90 days after imposition of final judgment.”

Loughlin and Giannulli signed their agreements on Wednesday. (See hers and his.)

Lori Loughlin's signature on the plea agreement. (Screenshot: justice.gov/usao-ma)

The couple’s attorney, Sean M. Berkowitz, declined to comment on the agreement to Yahoo Entertainment. Loughlin’s publicist said no statement is forthcoming.

Both Loughlin and Giannulli were arrested in March 2019 and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest-services mail and wire fraud. Prosecutors alleged that they paid $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters, both social media influencers, into the University of Southern California as crew recruits, despite neither having played the sport.

After Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty, however, they were slapped with additional charges. First, it was conspiracy to commit money laundering in April 2019. Then in October, they were also charged with conspiracy to commit federal program bribery — for allegedly bribing employees of USC to facilitate their children’s admission.

All told, Loughlin and Giannulli faced up to 50 years in prison each but it wasn’t expected they would serve that long.

Loughlin and Giannulli were expected to go to trial in this case in October with jury selection starting in September. However, last month, as the case progressed, prosecutors released damning photos of Olivia Jade and Isabella on rowing machines. They claim the couple staged the photos of the girls, who didn’t row, as part of the elaborate scam.

Olivia Jade Giannulli posing on a rowing machine in 2017. (Image: The United States Attorneys Office, District of Massachusetts)

There were also email exchanges between Giannull, Loughlini and disgraced admissions expert William “Rick” Singer, who masterminded the scam and previously pleaded guilty. In one, Singer advised that he would “create a coxswain profile” for Isabella — who was not a coxswain and did not row crew — and asked for “a picture with her on an ERG in workout clothes” so she looked “like a real athlete.” Giannulli replied, “Fantastic” and later emailed Singer the picture of Bella posing on the ergometer.

Isabella Giannulli posing on a rowing machine in 2016. (Image: The United States Attorneys Office, District of Massachusetts)

The couple later repeated the procedure for Olivia Jade.

The email thread about creating a fake rowing profile for Olivia Jade. (Screenshot: United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts)

More than 50 people — parents, coaches, administrators and beyond — were charged in the scheme, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues by prosecutors, orchestrated by disgraced admissions consultant William Rick Singer. Loughlin’s peer, actress Felicity Huffman, was among the first to plead guilty and reported to prison on Oct. 15 to complete her sentence. Huffman, who paid $15,000 to fix her daughter’s SAT scores, served a sentence of just over a week.

The way Huffman and Loughlin handled this scandal, respectively, has been buzzed about since the start. While Huffman admitted her guilt and apologized more than once, Loughlin maintained her innocence. A source in her camp said she didn’t think she was doing anything wrong, allegedly arranging for fake photos to be taken of her daughter on crew equipment in addition to the monetary payments.

There was also the public presumption that Loughlin wasn’t taking the charges seriously. That was because of her demeanor in court — as well as outside court, where she warmly greeted fans.

It didn’t help that her daughter Olivia Jade posted a social media photo giving the middle finger to various media outlets.

Neither Olivia Jade, 20, nor Isabella, 21, are currently enrolled at USC.

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