Lori Loughlin aka “Aunt Becky” and her daughters have lived a gilded SoCal life.  They flit in and out of their $35 million-dollar mansion outside of LA on their way to trendiest Yoga studio, sublime spas and to the airport to jet off to exotic destinations in their private planes without a care in the world.

In the mix of all of that, Aunt Becky could not fathom little Olivia or Isabella having to “settle” for Arizona State University.  Her over-indulged princesses were at least entitled to attend USC, lest the neighbors’ gossip.  So, Aunt Becky did her research, talked to her sources and happened across Rick Singer who had a “side door” for the spawn of the rich and famous.  All she had to do was “donate” $500,000 to Rick’s “charity” and send a photo of each princess on a rowing machine and they were guaranteed to be little Trojans for the next 4 years.

Violation of the United States Code

The problem is that this donation and fake photo violated United States Code 18 Sec. 1349, 1956 (h) 981 and 982.  This amounts to mail fraud and money laundering.  The other problem is that the evidence is iron-clad.  This is essentially a documents-only case and since ignorance is no excuse of the law, Aunt Becky is screwed.    And, they have her admitting to the crimes on recorded phone calls.  The evidence doesn’t get much stronger than that.  So, with Aunt Becky facing 20 years in prison on the original charge of fraud, the Assistant US Attorney offered her a plea bargain of 24 to 48 months in federal prison.  She was stunned.  Aunt Becky still did not believe she had done anything wrong.

Federal prosecutors do not mess around.  When they have a strong case, they want it resolved easily and quickly so they can move on.  Since Aunt Becky told them to pound sand, the prosecutors significantly upped the ante by adding a money laundering charge (which makes it 40 years she could be facing) and sending target letters to at least one of her daughters.  The target letter means the prosecutors are getting ready to charge a princess in the scheme as well.   As such, Aunt Becky will be chomping at the bit to accept the plea bargain to reduce her own prison time and particularly to keep the princesses safe.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Plea Bargains

The advantages of plea bargains for the accused is the opportunity reduce their risk and plea to a lesser charge or more lenient sentence than if convicted at trial.  Prosecutors offer this to lighten their caseloads.  Similarly, judges prefer to reduce their already overcrowded docket.  Felicity Huffman only paid $15,000—rather than $1 million like Loughlin– for a better SAT score for her child and admitted her guilt immediately.  Accordingly, she will only spend 4 months in federal prison.

The disadvantage in plea bargains is when the defendant is innocent but feels compelled or pressured to accept a guilty verdict to avoid the risk of trial.

What percentage of criminal cases end in plea bargain?

More than 90 percent of cases result in plea bargains in state cases and closer to 97 percent in federal cases.  The harsh reality is that some cases are won during plea bargain negotiations.  But, for many complicated reasons, prisons are filled with many, many people who could have been out in a few months to a few years rather decades because they could not face the reality of their situation and chose to roll the dice against ominous odds.  As attorneys and counselors at law, we can only provide our best advice and hope the client heeds it.



Ronald F. Wright and Paul Hofer – Analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data