Loughlin to prosecutors: Show me yours and maybe I'll show you mine

Reality may have finally dawned on the highest-profile celebrity couple involved in the Operation Varsity Blues college-admissions scandal. As many have speculated, prosecutors have upped the ante again by threatening to prosecute one or both daughters of Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli in the bribery and money-laundering case. People Magazine reported yesterday afternoon that the pressure on the daughters might cause their parents to change their mind on a plea deal:

A source close to Loughlin confirms the couple “has every reason to believe” their daughters could be targets of prosecution — and they are taking their daughters’ well-being into account as they proceed in the case.

“Lori will not do anything to put her daughters in harm’s way,” the source tells PEOPLE. “She is like a mama bear when it comes to the girls, and she will do whatever she has to do to protect them from prosecution, especially malicious prosecution. Her top priority in all of this is to protect her daughters.”

“The prosecution could easily charge the daughters in an attempt to get them [Loughlin and Giannulli] to plead guilty,” the source says. “But investigators have not disclosed any information that they may or may not have that would implicate either one of the daughters.”

People’s source calls this a “squeeze play,” and not in a good way. It’s not clear why charging the daughters with a crime would be “malicious,” although it’s certainly hardball. If the daughters knowingly took part in deceptive activities to further the conspiracy — say, by posing as crew athletes when they never participated in that sport and taking explicit steps at school to further the fraud — then they’re susceptible to being charged as part of the conspiracy. They were likely adults at the time, which means they’re responsible to know better than to participate in such an alleged fraud.

But that’s only if one applies “malicious” to the daughters. The whole prosecution appears malicious to Loughlin and Giannulli, and at least at first they seemed to be building a defense on that basis. The argument would have been that prosecutors let the real perps off with plea deals to go after their victims, the parents who got sucked dry by Rick Singer and the coaches. They thought that Singer was cutting corners, Loughlin’s friends started arguing, but that the money wasn’t going into the coaches’ pockets but into the school programs, ergo no bribery and no conspiracy. With Loughlin’s likability a clear asset with any jury, that defense at least had a theoretical chance of succeeding, and maybe more than just theoretical.

So what changed? Er … this?

Laura Janke, the assistant coach for the women’s soccer team at the school, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

In exchange for her cooperation, prosecutors are recommending a sentence in the lower end of the guidelines for her offenses in the case, which include accepting funds totaling $350,000 that were sent to a soccer club she manages by William Rick Singer.

He sent this money to the team in exchange for her and fellow soccer coach Ali Khosroshahin designating the children of four of his client’s as USC athletic recruits.

And jurors will now get a very clear picture of how the entire scheme worked as one of the parents whose child Janke helped get into USC, Toby MacFarland, has also signed a plea agreement.

This looks to be bad news however for those parents and coaches at USC who have entered not guilty pleas – including Lori Loughlin.

The more coaches get rolled up, and the more parents plea out with agreements to testify, the tougher it gets on the parents still resisting. Janke may or may not have had direct contact with Loughlin and Giannulli, but she can certainly explain how things worked in ways that will defeat the “naïfs” argument — and more importantly, so can the other parents, if they’re not still inclined to minimize their own guilt.

The pair aren’t pleading out yet, however. For now, they have demanded full disclosure from prosecutors before any more arguments on motions, arguing that they need to see the whole case before deciding on their strategy:

Lawyers for Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli filed documents requesting the government to turn over the evidence in the college admissions scam case against them.

Loughlin, 54, Giannulli, 55, and 15 other defendants claimed they haven’t received any of the “extremely voluminous” evidence in their case, court documents obtained by Fox News allege.

The beleaguered couple’s legal team have requested to suspend all motions in the case ahead of the next scheduled hearing, set for June 3, until they receive the prosecution’s evidence for review.

That’s a smart move, but a judge might not force prosecutors to comply so quickly with discovery obligations. The Department of Justice might still be investigating others in connection to Singer’s conspiracy, for one thing. Singer reportedly told investigators that he’d sent over seven hundred students through “the side door” during his career, and the initial indictments only listed 33 parents. Do the math. Defendants are eventually entitled to see everything relevant to the case that prosecutors have, but not usually immediately.

The DoJ might not object too strenuously in this case, though. They’d probably prefer to get the pair to plead out and keep from having to haul Aunt Becky to the defense table in a very public trial, especially since people will still be asking why the DoJ cut deals with Singer et al and focused their ire on the parents. And People Magazine’s source reveals that Loughlin has belatedly realized that going to trial probably won’t work out well for her either:

“It’s not in their best interest for this to go to trial, and Lori knows it,” the source told PEOPLE last week. “She will continue to make a good faith effort to put this case behind her, and she hopes the prosecutors will do the same.”

Until now, it’s not clear that Loughlin and Giannulli were making a “good faith effort,” but the threat to indict the daughters might have allowed good faith to emerge. If they take a close look at the evidence that prosecutors plan to use, Loughlin and Giannulli might be more willing to bargain, especially after prosecutors made it clear that they intended to use all the leverage at their disposal. As Bob Saget told Today this morning, “It’s a strange time.”