In the public eye, a single bad decision can damage a carefully-cultivated public brand which took years to develop affecting their public relations image forever. As an example of this, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, have agreed to plea deals that include jail time for their role in the national college entrance “bribery” scandal.
According to public records and media reports, Loughlin and Giannulli “created fake athletic profiles for their daughters” in an effort to “get them recruited for the crew team, even though they didn’t play the sport.” Records also indicate that they were working directly with scam ringleader, Rick Singer, who helped the couple stage the deception.
As part of the deal, Loughlin agreed to serve two months in jail, while Giannulli agreed to serve five months. Until the deals were announced, the couple had insisted in and out of court that they were innocent of the charges. They claimed investigators had “fabricated evidence” and asked the judge to dismiss the case against them.
Speaking to the media about the case, a former federal prosecutor said he believed the couple eventually decided their risk of going to court was “just too great.” Even still, the couple, speaking through their legal representation, said they believed the donations made to the university were “legitimate,” and they also accused prosecutors of “hiding crucial evidence” that would have exonerated them.
As part of the plea agreement, the couple admitted to conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, while the prosecution agreed to dismiss charges of money laundering and bribery. They must also pay significant individual fines.
While the couple agreeing to the plea agreement and admitting some guilt after denying any guilt for two years surprised some, other legal analysts said they made the right call. Citing precedents that made it likely they would be convicted on some of the counts, especially given that others linked to the scandal had already gone through the legal process, pleading out for lesser charges may have lessened both the legal risk and the damage to their reputations going forward.
In addition, some legal experts say the timing is significant. As concerns about COVID-19 in jail systems increase, some high-profile defendants have seen their sentences changed from jail time to house arrest, an outcome some legal scholars believe might be an option for Loughlin and Giannulli.
Taking this deal puts a specific definition on their role in a scandal that grabbed the nation’s attention. And it removes the possibility that they will be labeled with crimes that have worse consequences both legally and in public perception. The public may not necessarily believe their story, but the sentence is what will go on the record. All else will be filed under speculation. At this point, that could very well be the best outcome they could hope for. Time will tell.