In the latest dramatic turn in the unfolding Operation Varsity Blues college admissions saga, Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are reportedly gearing up with a new defense. According to lawyers, Team Loughlin is set to argue in court that they believed the $500,000 payment they made to a scam artist in exchange for having their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as fake members of the crew team was actually just a totally legal charitable donation.
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that a legal team for the couple — led by former Enron prosecutor Sean Berkowitz — is demanding that the FBI turn over interviews with the purported ringleader of the scandal, William “Rick” Singer, which they claim would show that Loughlin and Giannulli were told their payments “would go to USC itself for legitimate, university-approved purposes or to other legitimate charitable causes.”
While prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston have thus far refused to release the transcripts in full, a summary of their report appended to Berkowitz’s filing shows that Singer told the couple that if they wanted daughters Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose admitted to the school, they’d need to “write a $50,000 check to Donna Heinel at USC and pay an additional $200,000 through [Singer’s charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation].”
“Giannulli and Loughlin will help establish their innocence by showing that they understood both sets of payments to be legitimate donations, and did not understand or intend that either set of payments would be used to directly or indirectly bribe Heinel,” Berkowitz wrote in the filing.
The decision to plead not guilty to the charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering and bribery they have been hit with in the wake of the scandal has proven to be a high-risk bet for the famous couple. In October, the actress Felicity Huffman was released from federal prison after serving just 11 days after she pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in exchange for boosting her daughter’s SAT scores.
In an interview with Boston’s WCVB shortly after Huffman’s sentencing, Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case, said that Loughlin and Giannulli could expect a more severe sentence in the event of a trial.
“If she is convicted, we would probably ask for a higher sentence for her than we did for Felicity Huffman,” Lelling said, simultaneously praising Huffman for being “contrite” and someone who took responsibility “almost immediately.”
According to Deadline, the crimes Loughlin and Gianulli are accused of carry a maximum sentence of 40 years behind bars and over $1 million in fines.
The one plus side to all the legal drama? Olivia Jade — who recently returned to YouTube amid the controversy — will likely be able to mine this story for vlog content for years to come. Here’s to a new video series of rowing tips sponsored by Sperry Top-Siders in 2020.