SALT LAKE CITY — Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli’s decision to plead guilty in the college admissions scandal Thursday — more than a year after they were first charged — may have helped them avoid a possibly longer sentence, a University of Utah law professor said.

What’s the news:

On Thursday, Loughlin and Giannulli said they would agree to plead guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton on a date yet to be decided, according to a plea agreement filed in federal court.. The couple was set to stand trial in October.

In spring 2019, Loughlin and Giannulli were charged with paying $500,000 in bribes so their daughters, Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose Giannulli, could be crew team recruits for the University of Southern California. The couple pleaded not guilty at the time.

Loughlin will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and Giannulli will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud and honest services wire and mail fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.

  • Loughlin will be sentenced to two months in prison, a $150,000 fine and two years of supervised released with 100 hours of community service, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.
  • Giannulli will be sentenced to five months in prison, a $250,000 fine and two years supervised release with 250 hours of community service, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts.

Is it a good deal?

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Shima Baradaran Baughman, a professor of law at the University of Utah College of Law, said this is a good deal:

  • “Given how this case started, and the public outrage, I think Loughlin and her husband ended up with a pretty reasonable deal.”
  • “If I were charging, I would have preferred to see higher restitution payments and no incarceration given that incarceration just costs the state money and has no real positive benefits.”

Avoiding a longer sentence:

  • In fact, Loughlin may have avoided a long prison sentence because she dragged out the case for so long. Loughlin and her husband faced between 40 and 50 years in prison for the case, facing charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud; conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery; conspiracy to commit money laundering.
  • Deals could have been presented to Loughlin and Giannulli for almost a year now, Shima said. Experts agree that prosecutors and defendants will negotiate behind the scenes before anything becomes public.
  • “It could be that prosecutors wanted to make an example of them from the start and that Loughlin escaped a long prison sentence by waiting for a strategic time to plead,” Shima said.

How Loughlin avoided a long sentence

  • Loughlin may have helped her own case by separating herself from the risk of the parents charged in the college scandal, too, Shima said.
  • She said defendants in cases with multi-defendants will separate themselves so their charges don’t receive get tainted by other deals and negotiations in the case.
  • “It is unclear whether Loughlin and her husband got a better deal for waiting since we have no idea what the prosecutors’ starting offers to Loughlin and her husband were,” she said.
  • The plea bargaining process “is and has always been shrouded with mystery,” Shima said. Loughlin and Giannulli can afford good lawyers, who “will zealously advocate and decide with their client whether they would rather risk a jury or take a deal that prosecutors have offered,” she said.

The future:

  • Loughlin may face bigger consequences in the future.
  • “Loughlin now has federal felony charges which will leave her with collateral consequences for life. Often felons lose the right to vote or own a gun,” Shima said.
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