Millionaires, college athletic coaches and ACT proctors are all entwined in the college-admissions bribery scandal heard 'round the world.
But it’s two TV stars who have become the faces of the bombshell story, after it was revealed Tuesday that Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman allegedly paid thousands of dollars to fake test scores and disguise their children as athletes in order to gain access to prestigious schools.
And that's the downside of fame, experts say. "Although there were (more than 30) parents involved, they’re the two that are going be the face of it again and again and again. And that’s the price you pay for being in Hollywood," says crisis-management expert Howard Bragman, CEO of La Brea Media.
But will their careers survive the storm? First, a look back at their alleged crimes.
How we got here
Federal prosecutors allege Huffman spent $15,000 on a cheating scheme to aid her daughter’s SAT test-taking, according to the investigation. Ultimately “Huffman's daughter scored 1420 on the SAT, an improvement of approximately 400 points over her PSAT" she'd taken a taken a year earlier, according to the affidavit.
'Expel this cheater': Lori Loughlin's daughter Olivia is being trolled over bribery case
And Loughlin, who was charged alongside her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly paid bribes totaling $500,000 "in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team, despite the fact they did not participate in crew, thereby facilitating their admission to USC."
As a chorus of indignation grows, are their careers over?
Actually, most image experts say no. But first, both actresses have some explaining to do.
It's just that they probably can't say much.
"Their criminal lawyers are saying, 'Shut up, don’t say anything, don’t talk to anybody,'" Bragman says. "And that’s the best advice, although I’m sure they want to talk and they want to say, ‘We thought we were doing what’s best for our kids and we made a mistake.’"
In court, their lawyers could take a variety of stands.
“If I was their attorney, my argument would be, ‘How are these people really different than people who have made donations directly to the school?’ It’s more of a cultural issue," says criminal defense lawyer Lara Yeretsian, who has represented celebrity defendants including Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson.
But if they are innocent, "then they need to vigorously dispute the charges and focus on their history of being credible and trusted citizens," says Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants. "If they are guilty, they must remain careful and quiet because the last thing they want to do is deceive the public, as it will destroy any chance of rebuilding their brand and trust after the case is adjudicated.”
But what about their upcoming projects?
Both women have a busy 2019 planned. Huffman has two Netflix projects slated for spring releases: the mom-centric film "Otherhood" (streaming April 26), opposite Angela Bassett and Patricia Arquette; and Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five series "When They See Us" (May 31), in which Huffman plays former New York city prosecutor Linda Fairstein.
Though Loughlin's IMDb page also shows four upcoming "Garage Sale Mysteries" TV movies for Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, the network cut ties with her Thursday, scrapping any upcoming productions.
"We are saddened by the recent news surrounding the college admissions allegations. We are no longer working with Lori Loughlin and have stopped development of all productions that air on the Crown Media Family Network channels involving Lori Loughlin including Garage Sale Mysteries, an independent third party production," Crown Media Family Networks said in a statement sent to USA TODAY.
Netflix had no comment about Huffman's or Loughlin's participation in their projects.
So what do they do now?
There's a lot of haterade flowing at the moment, as paying major money to sneak your kid through a "side door" at a prestigious university is not a good look.
The scandal "reinforces every bad thing that the average Joe thinks about Hollywood: that they’re privileged, they don’t have to play by the rules, that they get to move to the front of the line," Bragman says.
"But let’s be clear: This was more about wealthy people than celebrities. This wasn’t Hollywood malfeasance. This was about rich people malfeasance. And there’s a difference."
And though Schiffer says "it will take a long time" to heal the wounds with the public, this is no murder trial. Or an R. Kelly scandal.
"This is a relatively small crisis from a brand and PR perspective," says Ronn Torossian, a crisis-management expert who’s worked for companies like McDonald's and stars like Sean Combs. "This is something that can go away."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can Felicity Huffman's and Lori Loughlin's careers ever recover from college bribery scam?