Lori Loughlin pleads not guilty in admissions case

Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli allegedly paid $500,000 to get their daughters into USC. (Photo from Hallmark Channel)

“Fuller House” actress Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli filed a not guilty plea in the U.S. District Court on  Monday, following indictments alleging the parents paid $500,000 to bribe their daughters’ way into USC. Loughlin and Giannulli entered not guilty pleas to charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering and waived their rights to appear in court for arraignment.

An FBI investigation in March revealed the parents paid senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel to create false athletic recruitment profiles for daughters Olivia Jade, a freshman majoring in psychology who maintains a large online following, and Isabella Giannulli, a sophomore majoring in communication. According to court documents, the two were both labeled as rowing recruits, despite having no experience with the sport. Both daughters are still officially enrolled at the University.

Loughlin and Giannulli are among 13 USC parents indicted in the scheme — the most of any University named in the FBI affidavit. So far, 13 other parents, including “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman, have pled guilty to the charges. Fifteen, however, did not plead guilty.

“There are several factors going on here — the evidence may not be as strong against this individual as it was against those who pled guilty,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University. “They might think they actually have a defense and certainly wouldn’t want to plead guilty [and] they might feel like they are not getting as much of the benefit by pleading guilty.”

According to court records, The Edge College & Career Network, a for-profit college counseling business founded by William “Rick” Singer, is accused of running the student-athlete recruitment scam. Parents across all eight universities named in the charges — including USC, UCLA and Stanford, Georgetown and Yale — allegedly paid Singer nearly $25 million to unfairly admit students.

Singer — who came to serve as a cooperating witness in the FBI investigation in September — pleaded guilty to money laundering, obstruction, racketeering and conspiracy to defraud the United States March 12.

According to court documents, Singer and Giannulli discussed how the payments would work in a recorded phone call Oct. 25:

Singer: So I just want to make sure our stories our the same, because —

Giannulli: Yeah.

Singer: And that your $400,000 was paid to our foundation to help underserved kids.

Giannulli: Uh, perfect.

Singer: OK? I just wanted to make sure that we’re on the same page in case —

During a similarly audited phone call on Nov. 29, Loughlin confirmed her payments to Heinel and Singer:

Singer: Your donation [is] helping the girls get into USC to do —

Loughlin: Okay.

Singer: — crew even though they didn’t do crew. So nothing like that has been ever mentioned.

Loughlin: [inaudible]

Singer: If you ever — ever were to say anything.

Loughlin: So we — so we just — have to say we made a donation to your foundation and that’s it, end of story.

Singer: That is correct.

Loughlin: OK.

In addition to Singer and the 13 parents who pleaded guilty, Mark Riddell, a Harvard University graduate at the center of the test-taking aspect of the scam, also pleaded guilty Friday to charges of mail fraud and money laundering.

“I don’t think it is ever fair to assume that because one defendant pleads guilty, then everyone else will as well,” Levenson said. “Hypothetically and theoretically, if you haven’t … talked to all the witnesses, she may be saying, ‘I did not intend or realize that we would be cheating. We came to understand that this is a procedure that is sometimes used by people and I never had an intent to defraud…’ If that’s convincing, then she would have a defensible crime.”

Levenson said Singer’s guilty plea could be used as leverage to have Singer testify as a witness against parents going to trial.

“The people who pled guilty [may end up] testifying against her,” Levenson said. “If everyone testifies against her, it will be her word against many.”