Things are continuing to unravel for everyone involved in the massive college admissions scandal, and it just keeps getting more complicated.
On Tuesday, Lori Loughlin was indicted on an additional charge of money laundering conspiracy tied to the scandal, after reportedly not accepting a plea deal for her original single charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli were indicted along with 14 other parents. The news came after it was previously reported that Loughlin and her husband could face two years in prison for their alleged involvement with the scandal; the money laundering charge itself carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
Given all of that, it may seem surprising that Loughlin didn’t take accept the plea deal, but former assistant U.S. attorney Mimi Rocah (who is not involved with the college admissions case) tells InStyle that there are plenty of reasons why someone might not take a plea.
“Maybe they weren’t being offered a deal that they felt was acceptable to them, something that they could do,” says Rocah, a distinguished criminal justice fellow at Pace University. “Maybe they genuinely believe they aren’t guilty of the crime charged, or a lawyer is telling them [to do so]. There are a lot of ethical, personal and legal reasons why people don’t take pleas.”
Rocah adds that while she hasn’t read into the details of the additional charge handed down on Tuesday, it’s not uncommon for prosecutors to add more charges if someone doesn’t take a plea deal. Sometimes, she says, doing so can be a way for prosecutors to capture someone for their criminal conduct, but based on different charges that might make more sense to a jury.
“You want to give juries different options to see what makes the most sense to them,” she says.
As for Loughlin’s possible defense? It’s hard to say, but Rocah says it could involve trying to prove that Loughlin didn’t know that what she was doing was illegal, though that could be hard to make a case for.
“I haven’t looked enough at the facts to really be able to say for sure, but commonly, if you’re a defense attorney, these are all specific intent crimes where you’re going to have to show that she knew that she was doing something illegal even if she didn’t know the exact elements of the law she was breaking,” she tells InStyle.
“It’s hard to argue that she didn’t, but that could be an argument — a good defense attorney can rely on showing that the government hasn’t proven its case.”
It might be especially difficult to prove that argument, however, given that Loughlin (who was accused of paying a $500,000 bribe to get her daughters into USC) was recorded on a wiretapped call discussing the scam.
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From here, Rocah says, Loughlin will likely have to prepare for a trial in the coming months, and could have the option to enter a plea.
“If they were just indicted today, there’ll be some kind of arraignment and court appearance,” she says. “I’d say there’s a good 12-18 months between indictments and trials, give or take, but you could have a judge who moves it along faster. In between there, there’ll be motions, discoveries, possibly pleas, so just because she hasn’t plead yet doesn’t mean she won’t. A lot of people don’t plead until after their indictment.”
However, she says that it’s unlikely for Loughlin to avoid jail time if she’s convicted of the crime.
“People who are convicted of $500,000 frauds usually spend time in jail,” she says. “The way our system is, whether you approve of that system or not, the more money involved in the crime, the more potential jail time you face.”
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