Celebrities Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin smiled at reporters and fans as they appeared Wednesday in Boston federal court to face charges for allegedly bribing their kids’ way into top-tier universities.
The actresses were among 15 parents—including Loughlin’s fashion-designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli—who appeared before Judge M. Page Kelley in U.S. District Court. Nearly 50 people were charged last month as part of a bribery scheme authorities have called the “largest college admissions scam prosecuted by the Justice Department.”
Desperate Housewives star Huffman arrived to court three hours early alongside her brother and went straight inside, where she reportedly had to pass through security three times after her Fitbit wristband kept setting off the metal detector. Loughlin, who arrived in a black van moments before her court time, told reporters “I’m fine” and signed a few autographs for fans wearing her masks with her face on them.
Both actresses were out of courtroom within 10 minutes of appearing before the judge.
Prosecutors alleged these parents paid California-based admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer upwards of $25 million total to rig test scores, cheat on SAT exams, and bribe college coaches, all with the goal of getting their children into elite universities, including the University of Southern California, Georgetown, Stanford, Yale, and the University of Texas. Many of the children were in the dark about the scam, which sent shockwaves through the higher-education world.
Singer, the 58-year-old mastermind of the operation, pleaded guilty last month in Boston to charges including racketeering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. He is the third to have pleaded guilty in the scheme, following a Yale women’s soccer coach.
On Wednesday, defendants learned their rights on this case going forward and the conditions of their bail, which include no personal international travel, no firearms in the home, and no drug use.
Despite previous reports of international work trips, Loughlin and Giannulli both surrendered their passports and told the judge they understood their rights. Huffman also surrendered her passport and laughed along with her lawyer while signing paperwork that stated her maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, according to reports from inside the courtroom.
In a surprising move, however, Judge Kelley reversed the ban prohibiting suspects to discuss the case with family, saying it is “unrealistic” to expect they won’t speak with their children.
“The kids in these cases are witnesses and this could raise obstruction of justice issues,” U.S. Attorney's office prosecutor Eric Rosen argued in court, noting the case is centers around these children.
Huffman and Loughlin, who were both charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, have not commented on the allegations spurred from the FBI investigation named “Operation Varsity Blues.”
Loughlin, the 54-year-old actress best known for playing Aunt Becky on Full House, and her husband allegedly paid nearly $500,000 dollars to get their two daughters admitted to USC as crew recruits, even though neither teen had previously participated in the sport.
“I wanted to thank you again for your great work with [Olivia], she is very excited and both Lori and I are very appreciative of your efforts and end result!” Giannulli allegedly wrote in an email to Singer, according to the complaint.
Both daughters, YouTube star Olivia Jade and Bella, have left the school since the scandal erupted.
The Hallmark Channel cut ties with Loughlin and several beauty brands like Sephora and TRESemme dropped Olivia Jade Giannulli from advertising deals.
Huffman, 56, allegedly paid $15,000 to have someone correct her daughter’s answers on an SAT exam, giving her a 400-point bump. The payment—which was made out to Key Worldwide Foundation, a non-profit organization run by Singer—ultimately enabled the actress’ daughter to end up with a score of 1420. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, was not named in the complaint.
Loughlin and Giannulli are currently out on bail after paying a $1-million bond each, while Huffman paid a $250,000 bond.
In addition to the TV stars, more than a dozen other parents involved in the scheme appeared Wednesday, including: Homayoun Zadeh, a former associate professor of dentistry at USC who allegedly claimed his daughter was an elite lacrosse player; Gordon Caplan, a lawyer who allegedly paid $75,000 to have a test proctor correct answers on his daughter’s ACT exam; and Manuel Henriquez, who recently stepped down as head of a Bay Area hedge fund after being accused of hiring a proctor to sit with his daughter as she took the SAT test. Henriquez’s daughter, Isabelle, is one of the only students who willingly participated in the scheme that got her into Georgetown, according to the complaint.
Several universities in the scandal have now pledged to review their admissions processes to ensure fairness, including making sure recruited athletes are carefully vetted. Yale and USC have also rescinded admission offers to students implicated in the scandal.