LOS ANGELES — On television, they both have played doting mothers who could do no wrong.
Now, the Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin find themselves as the twin public faces of a sprawling college admissions bribery scheme — the best-known symbols of presumptuous entitlement at the center of widespread ire.
But even as the admissions scandal has placed Ms. Huffman and Ms. Loughlin side by side in the spotlight amid dozens of lesser-known parents, the actresses’ roles in this real-life drama are actually quite different — and diverging by the minute.
One glimpse of that?
When Ms. Huffman announced this week that she would plead guilty to the crime she’s accused of, she issued a long, hand-wringing apology and her appearances in court have been somber — lips pursed and eyes avoiding the dozens of news cameras all around. Ms. Loughlin, who so far has not opted to enter a plea, has seemed to approach her courthouse visits with an affect more common on the red carpet — she has repeatedly been photographed smiling, at one point before she walked into federal court.
Distinctions between the two actresses’ cases, though, run far deeper, and they offer hints at the legal fight that may be ahead in the nation’s . The amounts the women are accused of spending in the fraud are far different — $15,000 versus $500,000. The circumstances outlined in court documents are distinct as well: a faked test for a daughter versus deals to get two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California with phony athletic claims.
“There are enormous differences between them and it is a critical factor,” Eileen Decker, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles, said of the cases against Ms. Huffman and Ms. Loughlin. “It goes to their individual culpability. This scheme had so many levels to it: having a person take the test for them, putting money through the fake charity, hiding it from children and authorities. So far, the Loughlin case indicates far more significant involvement in the fraud.”
Ms. Huffman and Ms. Loughlin are charged in the same sweeping criminal complaint, but the particular claims against them veer into far different plots.
The essential claim against Ms. Huffman? That she spent $15,000 to get William Singer, the college consultant who has admitted to being the architect of a ring that used bribes to help parents get their children into selective colleges, to arrange for someone to secretly correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT.
The plans required Ms. Huffman to help her daughter receive extra time and choose a specific testing location where cheating could occur — and Ms. Huffman clearly understood what would occur, prosecution documents suggest. When her daughter’s high school suggested that she take the test at school, Ms. Huffman sent an email to Mr. Singer that said: “Ruh Ro!”
In the end, prosecutors say, the scheme went forward, and Ms. Huffman’s daughter, who is now a senior in high school and apparently knew nothing of the plans, got a score of 1420, about 400 points higher than she had earned on her Preliminary SAT exams.
When it came time for Ms. Huffman’s younger daughter to take the test, Ms. Huffman and Mr. Singer again spoke in detail and plans began for a similar process, according to the criminal complaint against Ms. Huffman. The plans, though, were ultimately scrapped, the prosecutors said, and the younger girl apparently took the tests on her own.
Plans in the case of Ms. Loughlin, and her husband, the designer Mossimo Giannulli, were far more complex and focused around the entire college admissions process, not a test, the criminal complaint against them suggests.
Ms. Loughlin’s lawyers did not return calls on Wednesday.
Prosecutors say that the family worked to get both of their daughters into “a school other than ASU,” going along with Mr. Singer’s plans for falsified athletic credentials and paying larger sums of money.
For months, investigators say, Ms. Loughlin kept in close touch with Mr. Singer, even while the family vacationed in the Bahamas. Following his suggestion, they would present the daughter — Isabella Rose Giannulli — as a coxswain, though she had never rowed crew. Once her spot at the University of Southern California was assured, they wired $200,000 to Mr. Singer’s supposed charity.
According to prosecutors, Ms. Loughlin and Mr. Giannulli followed a similar path with their younger daughter. Both were enrolled at U.S.C. The total price tag, by prosecutors’ tally? $500,000.
On the same week that Ms. Huffman announced that she would plead guilty to a single criminal count against her, Ms. Loughlin was indicted on a count of conspiracy to commit fraud as well as an additional count, of money laundering conspiracy. So the case against Ms. Huffman headed toward a final, penalty phase even as the legal stakes appeared to be mounting for Ms. Loughlin.
In public, Ms. Huffman has appeared reserved, issuing a statement this week but saying little else in public.
“This transgression toward her and the public I will carry for the rest of my life,” she said of her daughter. “My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty.”
Back home in Southern California, Ms. Loughlin has been spotted out and about by . She politely told one that he was welcome to follow her all day, but that she would not talk about the case. When he wished her well, she responded: “You have a beautiful day.”
She added: “Thank you so much. Thanks, honey.”
Mr. Giannulli was indicted along with Ms. Loughlin, and, like her, could face a prison sentence.
But Ms. Huffman’s husband, the actor William H. Macy, is only referenced in passing in the criminal complaint.
In Hollywood circles, Mr. Macy and Ms. Huffman have been regarded as royalty — a power couple with Oscar nominations who helped create the Atlantic Theater Company with the renowned playwright David Mamet. They cultivated an image of being approachable and deeply involved in their children’s schools, and were beloved in part because of their partnership.
Several times, the complaint alludes to Ms. Huffman’s “spouse,” noting that Mr. Singer told the authorities that he met with Ms. Huffman and her spouse to explain how “the college entrance scheme worked.” The complaint does not charge Mr. Macy with wrongdoing, nor does it elaborate on that decision.
Over decades of acting, both women have played innocent characters — as well as conniving ones. (In , Ms. Huffman’s character handed over $15,000 to get her children into a private school.)
And on the acting front, the experiences of Ms. Huffman and Ms. Loughlin lately have been nearly identical: Work has vanished.
Netflix said it to release “Otherhood,” a comedy about motherhood starring Ms. Huffman. She also , “What the Flicka,” where she had publicly shared all sorts of motherly angst.
The it would not continue any shows that feature Ms. Loughlin. Ms. Loughlin’s role on “Fuller House,” a Netflix project reprising the hit sitcom, also .
Her children’s college futures also appeared uncertain. they would block any student tied to the scandal from registering for new classes or withdrawing from the university, leaving Isabella Rose Giannulli and Olivia Jade Giannulli in an academic limbo. Last month, Sephora dropped their partnership with Olivia Jade, whose millions of social media followers eagerly watched her broadcast videos from her dorm room.
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