Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli Should Be Prosecuted

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Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn just delivered a missive on why we should “Free Lori Loughlin,” and borders on irresponsible. McGurn’s piece contains just enough contextual truth to be really convincing, but falls woefully short in supporting its thesis that Loughlin’s unfair persecution is detrimental to justice as we know it.

McGurn’s central premise is as follows:

We’re dealing with Lori and Mossimo—an actress and a fashion designer—not Bonnie and Clyde.

I see, so are we now going to use this as a legal principle moving forward? There are worse criminals facing lesser consequences, therefore the whole system is unfair and Aunt Becky should go free? I don’t know what kind of nonsense legal relativism that is, but that is just not how criminal law works. And while we’re on the topic, what, exactly would a “crime against the federal government” be, exactly? I wasn’t aware that federal prosecutors were only permitted to pursue criminals when they defraud the U.S. treasury itself.

These people are being prosecuted for taking part in an elaborate scheme of bribery and fraud. It’s true that their crimes aren’t the shoot-em-up-life-and-death kind, but they’re still crimes. And they’re pretty damn extreme. Staged SATs, fake admissions profiles, and half a million bucks? That sounds pretty bad to me, and I’m fine with these people are now subjected to the rare experience of actually facing consequences for their actions, whether or not Olivia Jade’s made-up position as a cockswain was what legislators were thinking when they drafted the statute.

McGurn does, however, make an important – and sadly, accurate—point: Americans do embrace schadenfreude. Much of the public outcry over the Varsity Blues scandal is borne of the public’s thirst for celebrity blood; nothing is more captivating than an off-brand fall from grace. Watching the folksy Aunt Becky go down for an elaborate bribery scheme that fraudulently marched her underachieving kids right into USC is positively tantalizing for us little folks.

Whatever scandalmongering means about the American psyche, though, it’s not directly relevant to sound prosecutorial discretion. Bill Cosby’s and O.J. Simpson’s misdeeds caused a media frenzy too, but no one seriously contends that they were over-prosecuted on that basis.  Crimes like bribery have amorphous effects, and it’s always easy to advance the argument that a defendant in a bribery or fraud is receiving more than her fair share of legal firepower; but let’s not blame that on American celebphilia. We’re just less practiced at having compassion for victims of financial crimes than those of physical ones.

Loughlin, though, has found a champion in McGurn, who wrote:

If convicted of all the charges federal prosecutors have piled up against them, Ms. Loughlin and her husband could be sentenced to as much as 45 years in prison.

This is nuts.

And it would be nuts if a first-time non-violent offender were sentenced to four and a half decades in prison. But let’s all calm down. The likelihood that if convicted, Loughlin would spend forty-five years in prison falls somewhere between slim and none. As former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti noted, Loughlin’s sentence would likely fall far short of McGurn’s hyperbolic scenario.

Felicity Huffman served just twelve days in jail, and Agustin Francisco Huneeus Jr. was sentenced to five months.

While “Free Lori Loughlin” is a bit much to stomach, the prosecution is making some moves that are suspect: the new charges against Loughlin are odd, and do smack of overreach. Clearly, prosecutors really want guilty pleas from Loughlin and Mossimo, and they’re using all the leverage at their disposal to try and squeeze them from the couple.  Loughlin and her husband already faced significant penalties for their wrongdoing, and as Law&Crime founder Dan Abrams pointed out recently, piling on new charges without new evidence isn’t a good look for prosecutors. I propose we agree on “Fairly Prosecute Lori Loughlin, And Give Her A Reasonable Sentence If She Is Convicted.” There. Fixed it.

[image via Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images]

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.





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