BOSTON — Prosecutors will seek a "substantially higher" prison sentence for actress Lori Loughlin if she is convicted than the 14 days received by actress Felicity Huffman in the college admissions scandal, the top prosecutor of the blockbuster "Varsity Blues" case said.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling made that forecast in a rare television interview, confirming what had been speculated based on the ongoing sentencing of parents, including Huffman, who have pleaded guilty. Loughlin has pleaded not guilty to fraud and money laundering charges and is preparing for trial.
"If she is convicted, I don't think I'm giving away any state secrets by saying we would probably ask for a higher sentence for her than we did for Felicity Huffman," Lelling said during an appearance on WCVB-5's On the Record. "I can't tell you exactly what that would be.
"The longer the case goes, let's say she goes through to trial, if it's after trial, I think certainly we'd be asking for something substantially higher. If she resolved her case short of trial, something a little lower than that. It's tough to tell at this point."
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani has applied harsher sentences to parents like Loughlin who paid substantially more money to the admissions scheme's mastermind, Rick Singer, to have their children tagged as fake athletic recruits to get them into college than parents like Huffman who paid to have their children's ACT or SAT exam fixed. The judge has argued the recruitment scheme took away a seat from a deserving student.
Huffman, the first parent sentenced in the "Varsity Blues" scandal, was sentenced last month to 14 days in prison for paying Singer $15,000 to have someone correct answers on her oldest daughter's SAT exam. Singer typically charged between $15,000 and $75,000 for the test scheme.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to Singer's sham nonprofit for their two daughters to be classified as crew recruits at the University of Southern California.
Talwani gave four months of prison to parents, Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, who paid $250,000 and $400,000, respectively, to take part in the recruitment scheme. She sentenced another defendant, Agustin Huneeus, Jr., to five months in prison for agreeing to pay $300,000 to take part in both plots.
Felicity Huffman handled case in 'very classy way', prosecutor says
In all, 52 defendants are charged in the college admissions scandal including 35 parents. Twenty-four overall defendants, including 15 parents, have pleaded guilty while the remaining, including Loughlin, prepare for trial that will begin next year.
Lelling called Huffman "probably the least culpable of the defendants." In addition to paying among the lowest amounts to Singer, Lelling said Huffman had a "few things working in her favor" to receive the lighter sentence.
"She took responsibility almost immediately. She was contrite, did not try to minimize her conduct," Lelling said. "I think she handled it in a very classy way. And so, at the end of the day, we thought the one month was proportional. I think the two weeks that she actually got was also reasonable. I think we were happy with that. I think it was a thoughtful sentence.
"If people take responsibility for their conduct and they take responsibility for their conduct early on, then it will probably go better for them. What I value in the Felicity Huffman sentence is that I think it sent a clear message to other parents involved that there really is a good chance that if you're convicted of the offense, you're going to go to prison for some period of time."
Lelling said he believes admissions cheating is "widespread." He pointed to a lack of oversight over "second-tier sports" at universities and colleges such as crew, lacrosse and water polo.
"What you have here is coaches in those sports who are given some slots to play with, but there's no real oversight of what they're doing with those slots. And so the temptations grows to sell them basically. And so you have coaches taking bribes to give these slots to kids who are not really athletes in those sports
"I think until we did this case, that was kind of a widespread problem. I think the schools are now scrambling to deal with that potential problem."