The lead federal prosecutor in the widespread college admissions scandal said in a rare interview that the actress Lori Loughlin could get a "substantially higher" prison sentence than fellow Hollywood star Felicity Huffman if her case goes through to trial.
U.S. attorney Andrew Lelling spoke with local Boston station WCVB about the case, saying Huffman's two-week sentence was "reasonable" because the actress was "the least culpable defendant."
"She took responsibility almost immediately,'' Lelling told the station. "She was contrite. Did not try to minimize her conduct. I think she handled it in a classy way, and so, at the end of the day, we thought the one-month (recommended sentence) was proportional.
"I think the two weeks she got was reasonable," he said. "We were happy with that."
Huffman last month was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to have a fixer cheat on daughter Sophia Grace Macy's SAT in 2017.
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Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, have been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud after allegedly paying $500,000 to get their two daughters admitted to USC. They pleaded not guilty to the charges in April.
"If she is convicted, we would probably ask for a higher sentence for her than we did for Felicity Huffman,'' Lelling said. "I can't tell you what that would be.
"The longer the case goes, let's say she goes through trial. If it is after trial, we would ask for something substantially higher. If she resolved it before trial, something lower than that."
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Lelling also said he believed the problem of wealthy parents breaking the law to get their children into top universities was "widespread," particularly in connection to lower-profile sports like crew or water polo, where college coaches could take bribes with little notice.
"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," Lelling said. "And so the temptation grows to sell them."
He added, "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."
In a comparable case to Loughlin's, Los Angeles executive Stephen Semprevivo, who pleaded guilty to paying $400,000 to get his son into Georgetown University as a fake tennis recruit, received four months in prison last month.
Loughlin and her husband are due back in court in January.