This article originally appeared on VICE US.
Rag Time is a bi-weekly media investigation of a single celebrity story that's vastly more in-depth than you ever thought you needed. This week: the tabloid's take on Lori Loughlin's defense strategy as she heads toward a trial over the college admissions scandal.
On Tuesday, Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli appeared in federal court in Boston for a hearing related to their involvement in the college admissions scandal. Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, have been charged with mail fraud and money laundering after they allegedly paid $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters Olivia Jade and Bella Giannulli falsely designated as recruits to the USC crew team, ensuring their admission to the university. Unlike other boldface names caught up in the scandal, Loughlin and Gianulli rejected a plea deal in April and are moving toward a trial. Which means, at some point soon, they will need to mount a real defense. What’s their strategy?
At Tuesday’s hearing, Loughlin and Giannulli waived their rights to separate attorneys and made clear their desire to present a "united front" in the case. They each wore conservative outfits and attempted to avoid the media by entering the court through the back door, appearing much more serious than they did during their last visit to Boston, when Loughlin signed autographs and took selfies with fans. Both face up to 40 years in prison if convicted.
Since Loughlin and Giannulli were indicted in March, the tabloids have covered the case obsessively. Loughlin has appeared on the covers of People and Us Weekly multiple times in the last few months. At the beginning, she often appeared alongside Felicity Huffman, who was charged with mail fraud after allegedly paying $15,000 to adjust her daughter’s SAT scores. Once Huffman took a plea deal in May, though, Loughlin became the main story, with multiple insiders regularly offering a tabloid window into her state of mind.
Unless Loughlin and Giannulli are able to make some kind of deal with prosecutors, they will go to trial in the coming months. What will they argue in court? The couple has wisely decided not to sit for interviews or offer any comment on the case. Giannulli, especially, has kept out of the spotlight since the charges were filed. But "sources close to Loughlin" have been very chatty with the tabloids, offering hints about the kind of defense she will mount in court. Let’s review what they had to say.
"She is very faith-based"
In early April, when Loughlin and Giannulli were still deciding whether or not to plead guilty, sources connected to Loughlin told the tabloids that she was focusing on spirituality and wellness. "While waiting for this to come to some conclusion, she’s trying to keep a somewhat regular schedule—going to yoga and pilates and seeing friends for lunch," a source told People. "She is very faith-based, and she knows her faith will get her through this."
Since then, the tabloids have provided regular updates about Loughlin’s religiosity: She has been "spotted" attending mass at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills several times. The day before Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty, they were photographed celebrating Palm Sunday at church. People devoted two separate articles to the outing. In one, a source revealed that "Lori and Mossimo both celebrated The Lord by leading the palm procession through the church. They were asked by the priest to lead." Both wore Gucci loafers to the service.
On Loughlin’s birthday in July, Us Weekly reported that Loughlin and Giannulli attended 8:30 a.m. mass, with a source noting that "they were seen walking up to the front of the church to receive the Eucharist. They appeared to be regulars at that Mass as nobody bothered them and they kept to themselves." (For the non-Catholic readers: It is significant that the source noted that Loughlin and Giannulli received the Eucharist, because you’re only supposed to do that when you’ve recently "confessed" and are currently free of sin. Somebody wants you to know that Loughlin and Giannulli are not active sinners!)
Will this "faith-based" routine help Loughlin in court? Others have certainly tried it (see: Mischa Barton attending mass in a white dress after getting a D.U.I. in 2008.) At the very least, we can probably expect Loughlin to bring up her faith if she takes the stand.
"Everyone feels bad for her"
Before Loughlin and Giannulli decided to present a "united front" in their defense, sources close to Loughlin floated the idea that Giannulli was really to blame for the whole scandal. In April, just after Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty and realized they were looking at serious jail time if convicted at trial, Us Weekly reported that Loughlin was "constantly arguing" with her husband.
"Lori is constantly arguing with Mossimo because she is beginning to grasp that they are in very serious jeopardy," a source told the tabloid.
In the same week, another source told Us Weekly that Loughlin’s "inner circle" had concerns about Giannulli. "Everyone feels bad for her," the insider said. "They think the situation was something concocted by her husband."
People never picked up on this line of defense, and Us Weekly’s sources quickly abandoned it. Perhaps they were advised that throwing Giannulli under the bus wouldn’t help Loughlin’s case in the end. Last week, a source told People, "Lori and Mossimo are united in this. They’re going to face this together, and they believe that together they can beat this and move on with their lives. You won’t see one of them turning on the other."
Well, at least from this point forward you won’t.
"What any mom would have done"
In the weeks after Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty, certain sources suggested that by allegedly paying $500,000 in bribes to get her daughters accepted into USC, Loughlin was just being a good mom. "From the beginning, she didn’t want to take a deal, because she felt that she hadn’t done anything that any mom wouldn’t have done, if they had the means to do so," a source told People in April.
Another source told the tabloid that Loughlin and Giannulli were "surprised" to be charged. "You read the complaint and they look like criminal masterminds," the source said. "But they really didn’t know the legalities of what was going on. They’re not lawyers and they’re not experts. They were parents who simply wanted to make sure that their daughters got into a good school."
In the months since, sources have built on that line of thinking, telling People and Us Weekly that Loughlin did not think what she was doing was wrong. Last week, Loughlin again appeared on the cover of People, flanked by her two daughters, in the run-up to Tuesday’s hearing. A "legal source" told the tabloid, "Lori is remorseful, and she has definite regrets. She’s embarrassed and hurt, and she knows that her reputation has been ruined for life."
"But she also believes the allegations against her aren’t true," the source continued. "She honestly didn’t think what she was doing was any different than donating money for a library or athletic field. That’s the crux of why she pleaded not guilty."
This "legal source" has given us the clearest picture yet of the kind of argument Loughlin and Giannulli could make in court—that they did not realize what they did was illegal. Given the overwhelming amount of evidence against them, this will be difficult for them to prove. According to the complaint, Loughlin and Giannulli knew, at the very least, that they were misleading USC by attempting to designate their daughters as recruits to the crew team—a sport the girls never played.
Of course, all of these sources close to Loughlin, who have said the same things over and over, could be wrong. Maybe they are not close to Loughlin at all! That’s what Loughlin’s more outspoken daughter, Olivia Jade, would like you think, anyway. The former YouTuber and social media influencer returned to Instagram earlier this month after a lengthy hiatus to flip the bird to tabloids and gossip blogs including People, The Daily Mail, and Perez Hilton:
For the sake of Olivia’s future influencing career and her parents’ future freedom, let’s hope that she’s right, and that Loughlin and Giannulli have a rock-solid defense that sources have not yet shared with the tabloids.