Lori Loughlin's coming defense: I didn't know bribery was illegal

“I didn’t know that what I was doing was a crime” feels very on-brand for 2019 and the age of Trump.

Or, better yet, “I didn’t know that cheating was wrong.”

There were rumors last week that Loughlin and her husband were planning to plead ignorance, insisting that they never formed the intent necessary for a conviction in a case like this, but those rumors seem firmer today per reports in TMZ and People. As absurd as the defense sounds, it has a certain appeal. What’s the difference between rich trash making an exorbitant “gift” to a university and then finding their child’s been admitted “on the merits” and Loughlin and her husband handing fat envelopes to athletics officials to get her kids in on the pretense of joining the crew team?

Our sources say … lawyers for Lori and Mossimo Giannulli didn’t take a plea early on because they believe they have a solid defense on several fronts. First, ringleader Rick Singer did not tell them how he would use the $500k to get their daughters into the school. Fact … they were aware Rick Singer wanted pics of the girls on a rowing machine, but they say that doesn’t mean they knew the end game.

It’s true … knowledge and intent are key elements to proving bribery, and we’re told Lori and Mossimo’s lawyers are making that a centerpiece of their defense … their only intent is to generally get their daughters into USC by using a “facilitator” who got hundreds of other students into colleges…

And, we’re told, they have a more basic defense … colleges have horse-traded with relatives of prospective students for decades … e.g., fund the wing of a school building and your child will miraculously get accepted. It’s not only been tolerated by many schools … it’s aggressively encouraged by some of the schools, and parents know it.

“I get how it looks on paper,” said a source to People. Certainly they’re guilty of being “naive.” But…

“You read the complaint and they look like criminal masterminds,” the source tells PEOPLE. “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.”…

“Calling in favors, donating money to the alumni association, hiring consultants. Those are all things that parents do,” says the source. “And so they gave money to this consultant, not entirely knowing everything that was going to be done. When it all fell apart, nobody was as surprised as they were that they were in trouble.”

The source continues, “She never intended to break any laws, and if she did, it was inadvertent.”

It’s true, they gave the bulk of their $500,000 to Rick Singer for his “foundation,” possibly not knowing how he’d spread it around or even whether he intended to keep it for himself as his fixer fee. But they didn’t give him the whole $500K. According to paragraphs 201, 202, and 212 of the federal affidavit, Loughlin’s husband sent two checks, each for $50,000, directly to Donna Heinel, the senior women’s associate athletic director at USC. What did they think that money was for? It’s one thing to make a “gift” to the university, a nonprofit, in the full light of day, another to start cutting checks to individuals who coincidentally would be perfectly positioned to get your kid admitted under the false pretense of joining the crew team. Another strange coincidence: Both of the checks sent to Heinel were sent within days or weeks of her securing provisional admission for the Giannulli girls as student-athletes.

And remember, according to the feds, the Giannullis provided Singer with photos of both of their daughters posing on ergometers. It’s impossible to believe they didn’t know that a fraud was being perpetrated to get the girls admitted, if the facts in the affidavit are true. Their defense, I take it, is that all schemes in which the rich make “donations” to schools in return for their children being admitted are a sort of fraud — that is, it’s not that they didn’t realize what they were doing is shady, it’s that they didn’t realize it was illegal. Consider the state of the law, though, if that defense were successful in this case. Rich parents everywhere could start openly bribing key personnel at American universities to get their kids in and so long as the word “bribery” or “illegal” was never used, they could claim ignorance and avoid criminal liability. “I never heard of the Lori Loughlin prosecution,” they could say. “I didn’t realize admissions payola was actually against the law.”

If you haven’t read the affidavit, incidentally, know that the feds used Singer in a sting on both Mossimo Giannulli and Lori Loughlin long after the girls were admitted to USC to try to prove that they knew the $500,000 they paid was illicit. Singer, now cooperating with the feds and acting at their behest, told Giannulli in October 2018 that his foundation was being audited but “of course, I’m not gonna say anything about your payments going to Donna Heinel at USC to get the girls into USC, through crew.” To which Giannulli replied, “Sure.” Singer continued, “I just want to make sure [our] stories are the same,” that “your $400K was paid to our foundation to help underserved kids.” Giannulli: “Uh, perfect.” How this guy didn’t realize at that point, as Singer weirdly recited all the pertinent facts of their joint fraud, that he wasn’t being set up is beyond me.

Singer spoke with Loughlin a month later pitching her the same story about an IRS audit of the foundation:

Presumably Loughlin will point to the fact that Singer used the word “donations” instead of “bribes.” Plainly, though, she and her husband knew that a false story involving athletics was used to get the girls into USC. And plainly, they knew that 100 grand was sent to someone in the athletics department at USC. As Ed noted yesterday, another USC athletics official, Laura Janke, who allegedly created the false athletic profiles of Loughlin’s daughters to get them admitted via the crew team, is also now cooperating with the feds and presumably willing to share anything she knows about the Giannullis’ intricate knowledge of this plot. Realistically it’s laughable that they didn’t realize what they were doing was bribery. What they’re going to have to argue is that they sincerely believed that bribery, at least when it comes to college admissions, just isn’t illegal.

Exit question: Are mom and dad going to end up turning on each other here? “Lori is taking Mossimo’s advice. She thinks she did nothing wrong,” said a source to Us magazine. “Her husband presented this to her like it wasn’t an illegal thing she was doing.”