Breaking their silence for the first time since their arrest, "Full House" star Lori Loughlin and fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli apologized Friday for using their wealth and privilege to bribe their daughters' way into college before a judge sentenced each of them to prison.
Loughlin was ordered to serve two months behind bars while Giannulli was sentenced to five months after they admitted to paying $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits.
Fighting back tears, Loughlin told the judge that her actions "helped exacerbate existing inequalities in society" and pledged to do everything in her power to use her experience as a "catalyst to do good."
"I made an awful decision. I went along with a plan to give my daughters an unfair advantage in the college admissions process and in doing so I ignored my intuition and allowed myself to be swayed from my moral compass," Loughlin said during the hearing held via videoconference because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In an earlier hearing, Giannulli told the judge earlier Friday that he "deeply" regrets the harm that his actions have caused his daughters, wife and others.
"I take full responsibility for my conduct. I am ready to accept the consequences and move forward, with the lessons I've learned from this experience," Giannulli, 57, said in a stoic statement.
The famous couple's sentencing comes three months after they reversed course and admitted to participating in the college admissions cheating scheme that has laid bare the lengths to which some wealthy parents will go to get their kids into elite universities.
They are among nearly 30 prominent parents to plead guilty in the case, which federal prosecutors dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues." It uncovered hefty bribes to get undeserving kids into college with rigged test scores or fake athletic credentials.
Both Loughlin and Giannulli were ordered to surrender Nov. 19. In accepting the plea deals, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said the prison terms are "sufficient but not greater than necessary punishment under the circumstances."
Gorton expressed outrage at the couple's greed, telling Loughlin she had a "charmed" and "fairytale life," with a successful career and plentiful wealth yet still wasn't content.
"Yet you stand before me a convicted felon and for what? For the inexplicable desire to grasp even more, to have whatever prestige and instant gratification that comes from being able to show off the admission of your daughter to a preferred university," Gorton said.
Under the plea deals — unusual because the proposed terms were binding once accepted, instead of granting the judge sentencing discretion — Giannulli will also pay a $250,000 fine and perform 250 hours of community service. Loughlin will pay a $150,000 fine and perform 100 hours of community service.
Loughlin and Giannulli had insisted for more than a year that they believed their payments were "legitimate donations" and accused prosecutors of hiding crucial evidence that could prove the couple's innocence.
Their about-face came shortly after the judge rejected their bid to dismiss the case over allegations of federal agents' misconduct.
The case shattered the clean image of Loughlin, 56, who gained fame for her role as the wholesome Aunt Becky in the sitcom "Full House" that ran from the late 1980s to mid-1990s, and later became queen of the Hallmark channel with her holiday movies and the series "When Calls the Heart."
"Lori lost the acting career she spent 40 years building," her attorney BJ Trach said, describing the "devastating" impact the charges had on Loughlin's family life and career.
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Attorneys for the couple described them as devoted parents whose actions were motivated by a love for their children, and alluded to bullying their daughters faced after the charges were made public. Trach said the family was forced to hire security for their daughters and that Loughlin has sought to repair her relationship with them.
Other parents who've been sentenced to prison in the case have later urged the judge to allow them to serve their terms in home confinement because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Gorton, known in the courthouse for handing out tough sentences, has denied such requests.
Unlike every other parent sentenced so far in the case, they did not submit letters expressing regret or notes of support from family and friends to the judge by the deadline, although Gorton said he received two letters in support of Loughlin the day of the sentencing.
Prosecutors said Giannulli deserves a tougher sentence because he was "the more active participant in the scheme," while Loughlin "took a less active role, but was nonetheless fully complicit."
The couple funneled money through a sham charity operated by Rick Singer to get their two daughters into USC as crew recruits, even though neither was a rower, authorities said. Singer, who has also pleaded guilty, was expected to testify against them had they gone to trial.
Investigators had recorded phone calls and emails showing the couple worked with Singer to secure admission with fake athletic profiles depicting their children as star rowers.
Prosecutors said the couple allowed the girls "to become complicit in crime," instructing them to pose on rowing machines for photos — Singer told Loughlin and Giannulli he needed a picture of their older daughter looking "like a real athlete" — and warning their younger daughter not to say too much to her high school counselor.
Giannulli angrily confronted the counselor for questioning their crew credentials and asked why he was "trying to ruin or get in the way of their opportunities," the counselor wrote in notes detailed in court documents.
After the couple successfully bribed their younger daughter's way into USC, Singer forwarded them a letter saying she was let in because of her "potential to make a significant contribution to the intercollegiate athletic program," prosecutors wrote.
Loughlin responded: "This is wonderful news! (high-five emoji)," according to court filings.
"Desperate Housewives" actress Felicity Huffman. was also among the high-profile parents sent to prison for participating in the scam. She served nearly two weeks behind bars last year after admitting to paying $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter's entrance exam answers.