Lori Loughlin faces two charges in the college admissions cheating scandal, each carrying a maximum of 20 years in prison.
According to a source close to the family, Loughlin’s involvement allegedly began when she first learned of admitted scam organizer William “Rick” Singer — and how he had helped several of her friends get their kids into top colleges.
“Lori heard about Rick from a friend. Lori was told that Rick was the best,” the source says. “He was known for being creative, but it seems Lori had no idea that he engaged in bribes and lies.”
Now, the former Full House star and her husband J. Mossimo Giannulli, a fashion designer, are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
The criminal complaint against them alleges they wanted their daughters to get into the University of Southern California so badly that they paid approximately $500,000 in bribes to falsely designate their daughters as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew.
“It seems Lori went along with Rick’s plan because he explained this was the only way to get into USC,” the source says.
Singer has pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges including racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. As part of his guilty plea, he agreed to cooperate with the FBI to gather incriminating evidence against his alleged co-conspirators.
His alleged communications with Loughlin and Giannulli were recorded and detailed in the criminal complaint.
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According to the complaint, Singer and Loughlin discussed audits of Singer’s fraudulent non-profit organization, the Key Worldwide Foundation, which was actually a front for accepting bribes.
“They’re always worried about things going on in foundations,” Singer said.
“I see,” Loughlin replied, and then later said, “So we — so we just — so we just have to say we made a donation to your foundation and that’s it, end of story.”
After Loughlin’s youngest daughter got into USC after her older daughter successfully gained admissions, Loughlin wrote to Singer, “This is wonderful news.”
In response, Singer replied, “Please continue to keep this hush hush till March.” Loughlin responded, “Yes, of course.”
A legal source close to Loughlin and Giannulli told PEOPLE last week the couple had been previously offered a plea agreement when they initially faced only the mail fraud charge. But they rejected the deal because they didn’t want to spend time in jail, the source says. Subsequently, prosecutors brought the second charge against them of money laundering conspiracy.
“[The prosecutors] are saying that the only way anyone’s going to escape jail time is if they go to trial and are found not guilty,” the source told PEOPLE. “But they’re saying the they have such meticulous evidence that it would be foolish to take that risk.”
Reps for Loughlin and Giannulli have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.