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Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli have agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges in connection with a scheme to get their two daughters fraudulently admitted to college, a dramatic shift in the closely watched case.
Loughlin, an actress, and Giannulli, a designer, were two of the most prominent parents in a national scandal that cast a spotlight on the corrupting influence of money and celebrity in college admissions. The couple, who have maintained their innocence for more than a year, were scheduled to go to trial in October on charges that they paid $500,000 to get their daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as recruits to the crew team, even though their daughters were not rowers.
Last spring, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts revealed a sweeping scheme, nicknamed “Varsity Blues” by prosecutors, in which a private consultant named William “Rick” Singer helped children of rich parents get into elite schools by gaming their standardized test scores and falsely presenting them as athletic recruits.
The case drew national attention because it encapsulated the worst criticisms of the opaque, anxiety-filled competitive admissions process, with celebrities and wealthy people able to buy access to sought-after schools regardless of their children’s efforts and achievements.
Singer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges and became a cooperating witness for the government.
Loughlin, 55, of Los Angeles, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud in U.S. District Court, according to federal prosecutors. Giannulli is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud.
Loughlin’s plea agreement, subject to court approval, would sentence her to two months in prison, a $150,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 100 hours of community service. Giannulli would be sentenced to five months in prison, a $250,000 fine and two years of supervised release with 250 hours of community service.
Those aren’t the stiffest penalties administered in the case to date; one father was sentenced to nine months in prison.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton refused to dismiss charges against Loughlin, Giannulli and other parents who argued federal authorities had entrapped them. The couple has said they believed their payments were donations. William J. Trach, an attorney for the couple, said they would not be commenting at this time.
Not only the parents were well known; one of their daughters, Olivia Jade Giannulli, had been an influencer with millions of followers on social media. In the months before the scandal broke, her videos and posts included some scenes from her freshman year at USC.
In October, USC announced Olivia Jade Giannulli and Isabella Rose Giannulli were no longer enrolled at the school.
Loughlin and Giannulli will become the 23rd and 24th parents charged in the Varsity Blues cases to plead guilty.
Last year, actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to fraud charges. She admitted she paid $15,000 to have a test proctor change her daughter’s answers on an SAT exam to improve her score.
Charges are pending against another dozen parents who have pleaded not guilty. Their trials have been scheduled in two batches: one set in October in federal court in Boston and the other in January.
More than 50 people were charged in the case, including college coaches and people who facilitated the fake SAT and ACT test scores.
“We will continue to pursue accountability for undermining the integrity of college admissions,” U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling said in a written statement.