BOSTON – Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were in a federal courtroom here Wednesday for their initial appearance before a judge on felony charges they bribed and cheated to get their daughters admitted to elite colleges.
The two “Hollywood defendants,” the most famous of a group of nearly three-dozen parents charged in a wide-ranging college admissions cheating scandal, were in court for separate first appearances before federal Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley at afternoon hearings that lasted only minutes.
Shortly after 11 a.m., Huffman was spotted arriving at the courthouse where a media scrum had gathered. Dressed in slacks and a double-breasted jacket, she was alone except for her lawyers. She said nothing.
Loughlin arrived just before 2 p.m., and it was a much bigger scene, with scores of fans, reporters and spectators, news drones and helicopters overhead, and many police officers in attendance. Dressed in a tan-peach pantsuit and surrounded by security, she was greeted by loud cheers and screams of “We love you, Lori!”
She got out of a large black van surrounded by her lawyers and bodyguards. Unlike Huffman, she smiled and waved at the fans, some of whom called out to “Aunt Becky” as she walked towards the courthouse door.
At least some detractors were on hand, too: One woman was heard shouting, “Lori, Lori, Lori, pay for my tuition, Lori!” Another pair of women, from Emerson College, held up signs reading, “Lori, pls pay my tuition after you get out of prison (of course).”
Inside, reporters who shared an elevator with her noted she was smiling the whole time but didn’t say anything. Loughlin was still smiling as she walked into the courtroom, seemingly in good spirits.
Also appearing: Mossimo Giannulli, Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, who also is charged with paying $500,000 bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as crew athletes even though neither participated in the sport.
In the courtroom, the couple sat next to each other. When Loughlin’s case was called, she walked to the front of the courtroom straight-faced but calm. When she sat down next to her legal team, she smiled and shook hands with everyone at the table with her.
As is routine at a first appearance, the judge asked her questions about whether she understands the charges and the terms of her conditions of release. She answered, “Yes, your honor,” and “Yes, I did.” She had already turned over her passport to a pretrial supervisor in California and it will remain there.
She is required to let the judge know about any future travel, but did not ask for any special requests regarding international travel. She also waived a preliminary hearing. After the brief hearing was over, she walked out of the courtroom half-smiling.
Huffman’s Oscar-nominated husband, William H. Macy, was not charged in the case, but the FBI affidavit describing their alleged crimes said Huffman’s “spouse” participated in a scheme to falsely inflate their daughter’s college entrance exam score by paying $15,000 to arrange for a test monitor to correct wrong answers.
The college admissions scam involving Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman shows how some rich families use a “side door” to game an already unfair education system.
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They will not enter pleas until they are formally arraigned, which won’t occur until they have been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Hours before the hearings were set to begin, two college girls showed up at the courthouse with cutouts of Loughlin face.
“We’re huge fans of Lori, and I loved her because of ‘Full House,’ and obviously we’re upset because we’re college students, and we think it’s messed up, but we just came for fun, just to see her in person and see what she had to say,” said Liana Ferrara, 20, a student at Bentley University.
“We used to watch (daughter) Olivia Jade’s YouTube videos all the time but we don’t watch them anymore, and we don’t like her, and we unfollowed her on everything.”
Is she still Loughlin fan? “I mean, we don’t agree with what she did,” Ferrara said. “It’s really bad. I think rich people think they have this advantage over other people and she just did that.”
Like other parents from around the country who were arrested and have already made their first appearances, Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
The trio were arrested March 12 and March 13, among a total of 50 people nationwide, and accused of bribing college coaches and insiders at college testing centers to help get their underqualified children into some of the most elite schools in the country.
At a dramatic news conference in Boston, federal prosecutors said some of the defendants were charged with masterminding or participating in the scheme, but most are wealthy parents – including lawyers, CEOs and financial titans – accused of cheating or paying bribes. .
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney in Boston, told reporters. “For every student admitted through fraud, an honest, genuinely talented student was rejected.”
Huffman, 56, and Giannulli, 55, were arrested at their Los Angeles homes on March 12 and appeared in federal court there later in the day. Huffman was released on $250,000 bail and her travel was restricted to the continental United States. Giannulli was released on $1 million bail.
Loughlin, 54, who was in Vancouver shooting a project, flew home the next day and turned herself in at the Los Angeles courthouse where she was arrested. She was released on a $1 million bail.
Since March 12, the two actresses have become the faces of the shocking scandal and their lives, careers and families have teetered in the wake.
Huffman, who received a best-actress Oscar nomination for 2005’s “Transamerica,” has two Netflix projects slated for spring releases: the mom-centric film “Otherhood” (streaming April 26), opposite Angela Bassett and Patricia Arquette; and Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five series “When They See Us” (May 31), in which Huffman plays former New York City prosecutor Linda Fairstein.
So far, Netflix has not commented on Huffman or her projects.
Loughlin, best known for wholesome and romantic roles on TV, including playing Aunt Becky in the 1990s sitcom “Full House” and the reboot, “Fuller House,” was co-starring in Hallmark Channel’s “When Calls the Heart” until Crown Media, parent company of Hallmark, dropped her after she was charged. She was in the middle of production of the latest chapter of “Garage Sale Mysteries,” a movie franchise on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries that the company also dropped.
Loughlin’s younger daughter, Olivia Jade Giannulli, 19, a freshman at USC (her older sister, Isabella Rose, 20, also is at USC), had been a powerful social media influencer on the rise as a YouTube and Instagram star with her videos on cosmetics. But Sephora and TRESemme announced they were no longer working with her after her parents were charged.
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