What the Latest Guilty Pleas May Mean for Lori Loughlin in ‘Operation Varsity Blues’

Elizabeth Henriquez is set to plead guilty over the charges filed against her as part of the ongoing college admissions scandal known as “Operation Varsity Blues.” Her decision to plead out comes just days after prosecutors secured a similar promise from her husband–millionaire venture capital hedge fund manager Manuel Henriquez.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts announced the development early Monday morning on Twitter:


According to an affidavit filed by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent Laura Smith, “the Henriquezes participated in the college entrance exam cheating scheme, on four separate occasions, for their two daughters.” The since-fallen power couple also allegedly “conspired to bribe Gordon Ernst, the head tennis coach at Georgetown University, to designate their older daughter as a tennis recruit in order to facilitate her admission to Georgetown.”

Those court documents further allege that Henriquez and her husband, by way of the Henriquez Family Trust, “made a purported contribution of $400,000 to” William “Rick” Singer‘s Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF)–the non-profit entity Singer and his wealthy clientele used to facilitate the college admissions scheme.

Each Henriquez was charged with one count each of: conspiracy to commit mail fraud; conspiracy to commit wire fraud; honest services mail fraud; wire fraud; and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

And those charges are identical to the counts leveled against Full House actress Lori Loughlin–and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli–by federal prosecutors in Massachusetts.

The alleged facts of the charges filed against Henriquez and her husband also bear legally relevant similarities to Loughlin’s case.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling alleges that Loughlin and Giannulli “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the [University of Southern California (USC)] crew team–despite the fact that they did not participate in crew–thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”

Both Loughlin and Henriquez allegedly took part in the college admissions scandal by committing fraud on behalf of their two daughters. They both allegedly worked with Singer to create and promote fake athletic profiles in order to juice up their daughters’ college applications. And, despite a small difference of $100,000, each set of parents allegedly paid roughly similar amounts to bribe their children’s way into their respective schools of choice.

And Lelling has been extremely forthright about the role that certain facts will play insofar as to what his office plans to bid for in terms of punishment for each of the defendants in “Operation Varsity Blues.”

“One of the things we look to was how much money was involved,” he told Boston ABC affiliate WCVB in early October. “[Felicity Huffman] 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.”

Here, of course, the Henriquezes spent far in excess of $15,000 and their apparent acceptance of responsibility comes over seven months after the initial charges were filed. So, don’t expect anything near the lenient, two-week sentence received by Huffman here. The eventual punitive prognosis is likely even worse for Loughlin.

The Full House actress, of course, has remained defiant. She and her husband still maintain their innocence–and there’s no indication thus far that either plans to buckle in terms of legal culpability. There’s also–perhaps most importantly–the thorny issue of the dollar amounts allegedly spent by the Giannullis in service of the scheme.

That $500,000 allegedly received by Singer is a two-way tie for the second-largest amount spent by any of the defendant-parents.

But, and this is key, at least one of the judges overseeing some of the “Varsity Blues” cases has more or less rejected using the amount of money spent as a major basis for determining prison time.

In September, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani issued an order that found the accused defendants-parents “did not ‘gain’ these amounts, but instead paid them to a co-conspirator.”

“Nor did the conspiracy as a whole gain these moneys,” the judge continued. “Instead, the amounts were passed between the co-conspirators, and cannot stand in as an alternative measure for any loss incurred by the universities or testing companies.”

Notably: the Henriquezes are not before Judge Talwani (Judge Nathaniel Gorton is presiding over their cases) and Loughlin has yet to be assigned a judge–so the precedent set last month won’t necessarily be binding on either case. Gorton is considered to be one of the tougher judges when it comes to sentencing in the District of Massachusetts--and defense attorneys for Varsity Blues clients have accused prosecutors of “judge-shopping” by steering cases to Gorton.

Still, all of the cases did arise out of the same legal controversy, similar sets of facts and the same U.S. Attorney’s office–as well as the same potential Court of Appeals. But Loughlin, Giannulli and their attorneys are still quite likely to view the Henriquezes’ eventual fate with keen and studied interest.

[image via via JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images]

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