In a jaw-dropping scandal that recently took the nation by storm, dozens of wealthy parents were charged with cheating and lying to get their children into top-tier schools. The federal investigation - dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues" - is the most far-reaching college admissions prosecution in national history.
"Aunt Becky" and husband implicated
Several celebrities were swept up in the scandal, including Lori Loughlin, who played charming Aunt Becky in "Full House" and the Netflix reprise "Fuller House." Her husband, prominent fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, is also on the hook. Both face conspiracy-related charges of fraud and money laundering that could land them behind bars for up to 40 years.
Loughlin and Giannulli are among dozens of parents who hired "college consultant" William Singer to help their children get into elite schools. Increasingly over the years, Singer had resorted to bribes, faked credentials and phony test scores to make acceptance a "sure thing." He funneled money through a fraudulent charitable fund to pay bribes and make questionable "donations."
Loughlin and Giannulli allegedly paid Singer a half-million dollars to get their two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California. Singer cooked up phony athletic credentials for the girls, presenting them as accomplished coxswains for their high school rowing team. In reality, neither had ever participated in the sport.
In a dramatic twist that took many observers by surprise, Loughlin and her husband rejected a plea deal, opting instead to plead not guilty and, presumably, fight the charges at trial.
The move is bold for several reasons. For one, it gives the prosecution more time - and more leverage - to build a stronger case against the couple. Singer reportedly cooperated with federal investigators, recording phone calls, wearing a wire and helping the FBI secure much of the evidence that formed the basis for charges. Not surprisingly, a dozen parents have already pled guilty, as well as Singer himself.
Should they go to trial, Loughlin and her husband might argue that they were duped, painting themselves as unknowing victims of Singer's scams. Such a defense will likely be a tough sell; jurors aren't likely to be sympathetic toward wealthy celebrities or their privileged daughters.
And if the couple goes to trial, their daughters will almost certainly have to testify, further damaging the young women's reputations and careers.
In what could be another unfolding twist, students have reportedly been receiving target letters indicating they're the subject of a criminal investigation. The letters could mean students themselves will eventually face charges.
So far, only parents and coaches have been charged. But federal prosecutors may be signaling an aggressive move toward holding students accountable, too. Such a move would surely ratchet up the stakes in an already incendiary case.
One anonymous source claims that Loughlin's youngest daughter, 19-year-old YouTube star Olivia Jade Giannulli, has received such a letter. The extent of the evidence against her isn't yet clear. However, she was reportedly copied on an incriminating email between Loughlin and Singer.
While the outcome of this ongoing saga is far from certain, one thing is: Parents will now think twice before cheating or bribing their kids' way into elite schools.