Now that Felicity Huffman has been sentenced for her role in the college admissions scandal, all eyes are on Lori Loughlin. What does it mean for the Full House star now that Huffman, who pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud conspiracy, will serve 14 days in prison? Legal experts tell Yahoo Entertainment that if Loughlin is found guilty, it's almost assured she will face prison time — and more of it.
"The fact that Huffman got any jail time after her admission of wrongdoing does not bode well for Loughlin," Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Silva Megerditchian tells Yahoo Entertainment. "In Huffman’s case, she was the first high-profile parent to accept a plea and get sentenced. She immediately took responsibility for her actions, and apologized both privately and publicly in court. Yet despite her accepting full responsibility and for all her apologies, she still got jail time."
While Huffman took a guilty plea in hopes of a more lenient sentence, Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are fighting the federal charges against them. The couple pleaded not guilty to two charges: conspiracy to commit money laundering; and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud. (Loughlin and Giannulli were hit with an additional charge when they didn't agree to plead guilty.)
Megerditchian, chief executive officer of SLM Law, continues, "With Loughlin’s seemingly lack of remorse or taking any responsibility, I’m afraid jail time is very likely — unless she has a real and viable defense to the charges."
Criminal defense attorney Matthew Maddox agrees, saying Loughlin should expect to serve time behind bars if convicted, given the severity of her alleged crimes.
"The court will have to at least be perceived as delivering consistent sentences and sentences that are proportional to the defendants’ respective conduct," Maddox, of New Canaan, Conn.'s The Maddox Law Firm, tells Yahoo Entertainment. "Lori Loughlin should expect a jail sentence that is several factors greater than Ms. Huffman’s sentence."
Prosecutors claim Loughlin and her husband paid college admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as crew recruits even though neither participated in the sport. Huffman paid Singer $15,000 to have a proctor cheat on her daughter's college entrance exam.
Maddox doesn't believe Huffman's sentence is severe enough to give Loughlin pause on her plea of not guilty.
"This sentence will not divert Ms. Loughlin’s course at all, given what we have observed of her behavior and posture toward this prosecution," he says. "The sentence is not severe enough, and she may inaccurately perceive herself and her circumstances as sufficiently distinguishable in order to warrant a more lenient sentence."
Maddox continues, "If I were on her legal team, I would warn her in the most stark terms that she should change her plea and seek a plea bargain. Her prospects for winning at trial are extremely poor and her sentence will not only be commensurate with her conduct, but by that late post-trial date, she will not be able to avail herself of any of the credits provided by federal sentence guidelines."
But if prison time is what Loughlin fears most, as has been reported, attorney Megerditchian notes the actress might prefer to take the risk and go to trial in hopes she's found not guilty.
"If she’s innocent, it would not change her strategy to fight,” she says. “However, if she were strongly considering a plea to a lesser charge, that could change with Huffman receiving a jail sentence. Loughlin has to figure that accepting a plea would result in a real prison sentence, so she might as well take this all the way to trial."
If Loughlin were to seek a plea deal, Megerditchian points out, "it's never too late to negotiate."
"Trials cost money and a lot of time," she says. "The prosecutors would listen to the defense attorneys’ proposal and counteroffer based on the strength of the government’s case against her."
Still, it would be up to "whether the U.S. attorney's office will have her," adds Maddox.
"It’s not too late to request a negotiated plea, or plea bargain, and she might still receive some federal guidelines sentencing credits, but the longer that she waits, the worse her prospects become," he says.
Huffman's sentencing lit up social media Friday, with some people outraged and some simply surprised. Federal prosecutors had recommended one month in prison with a year of supervised release and a $20,000 fine. Meanwhile, her legal team asked the judge to sentence her to one year of probation, a $20,000 fine and community service — and no prison time.
Maddox explained how a judge considers "several factors in sentencing."
"One factor is specific deterrence," he shares. "Will the sentence deter the defendant from offending again? Yes, for Ms. Huffman, this sentence will, along with the negative media coverage, having a federal conviction and being supervised on probation. Another factor is general deterrence and this is one area where the sentence may be seen as inadequate. A 14-day sentence may not be enough to stop other wealthy parents from engaging in similar fraudulent behavior."
Maddox continues, "The most worrisome factor is whether the sentence offers actual retribution to society at large. Is this enough punishment? This sentence will tend to reinforce many peoples’ impressions that the wealthy are treated more leniently by the criminal justice system than the average citizen."
Loughlin is due in Boston federal court for a status conference on Oct. 2.
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