Pay Attention to This Case If You’re Curious About Lori Loughlin’s Fate in ‘Operation Varsity Blues’

Hedge fund CEO Manuel Henriquez is set to plead guilty on Monday in the “Operation Varsity Blues” case against him.

Henriquez and his wife Elizabeth Henriquez were among the wealthy parents charged with bribing their children’s way into universities of their choice. As of now, there’s no public sign his co-defendant wife will change her plea of not guilty. A spokesperson for Manuel Henriquez’s attorney told Law&Crime they were unavailable for comment on today’s filing, but confirmed the lawyer will be in court on Monday.

“Operation Varsity Blues” is a wide-ranging case about the extent the wealthy may go to get their already privileged children an unfair advantage in higher education. And, yeah, a lot of people are interested because co-defendants include famous actresses like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

With so many defendants facing so many similar charges, sentencing in each case tends to be relevant to the other cases, especially from prosecutors’ vantage point. We saw this with Huffman’s sentence to 14 days behind bars after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and honest services mail fraud. Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, point-blank said Huffman was “probably the least culpable of the defendants” charged by his office. Lelling said he and his prosecutors were happy with her punishment, even though they asked for a month of prison time.

He not only noted that even the “least culpable” defendant got some prison time, but also noted that the amount of money involved in a given fraud was important.

“One of the things we look to was how much money was involved,” he told WCVB earlier this month. “She spent about $15,000 to have her daughter get a fake SAT score. There’s a few things working in her favor. She took responsibility almost immediately. 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 was proportional.”

Lelling emphasized that a speedy guilty plea and acceptance of responsibility would benefit the defendants.

“What I value in the Felicity Huffman sentence is that I think it sent a clear message to the parents involved that are there is a good chance that if you’re convicted of the offense, you will go to prison for some period of time,” he said. “The least culpable defendant, even she got prison.”

Legal experts agreed that Huffman’s sentence was bad news for Loughlin and her co-defendant husband Mossimo Giannulli. Lelling said that if they continue to fight the charges and end up getting convicted, they can expect a “substantially higher” sentence. The money involved has a lot to do with it. The couple allegedly spent bribes totaling $500,000 to get their two daughters treated as crew team recruits at the University of Southern California, even though the kids didn’t compete in the sport. It should be noted that Loughlin and Giannulli have also been charged with money laundering, in addition to the charges Huffman faced.

With that in mind, those curious about Loughlin’s case should pay attention to both the amount of prison time prosecutors recommend and the kind of sentence Henriquez gets at the end of his case. Like Loughlin and Giannulli, Henriquez and his spouse allegedly put out a small fortune in a scheme to get their child into college as a purported student-athlete. According to authorities, the Henriquezes agreed to pay William “Rick” Singer, the admitted mastermind of the scheme, upwards of $400,000 to get their older daughter admitted to Georgetown University as a tennis recruit.

From court documents:

On or about October 3, 2015, CW-2 purported to proctor the exam for the HENRIQUEZES’ daughter at her school. According to CW-2, unbeknownst to the school, he sat side-by-side with the daughter during the exam and provided her with answers to the exam questions, and after the exam, he “gloated” with ELIZABETH HENRIQUEZ and her daughter about the fact that they had cheated and gotten away with it.

Another similar case to keep an eye on is the one against Toby MacFarlane. MacFarlane, a former senior executive at WFG National Title Insurance Company, admitted to paying $450,000 in bribes. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud — nominally the same charges as the ones Huffman pleaded guilty to, but yet the government recommended 15 months in prison, a year of supervised release, plus a fine of $95,000, restitution and forfeiture, due to the level of offense (i.e. amount of money involved). MacFarlane admitted that he committed conspiracy to commit fraud by “getting my children into USC as recruited athletes when in fact they’re not.”

[Screengrab via ABC 7]

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