Although the actresses were charged on the same day, they face drastically different consequences for their alleged crimes
On March 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced that it had charged 50 people, including Huffman and Loughlin, in the cheating scandal. The two actresses, along with coaches, admissions counselors, parents, and Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer J. Mossimo Giannulli, were indicted on charges of falsifying SAT scores and lying about their athletic skills, among other alleged crimes.
Huffman has agreed to plead guilty, saying, “I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions.”
Loughlin has not yet admitted to any guilt — and things got worse for her on Tuesday, when she and Giannulli were among 16 parents indicted on an additional felony charge of money laundering conspiracy.
Despite the fact that the two women were charged at the same time, their cases are markedly different. From the start, Loughlin has faced more jail time than Huffman.
How The Prison Terms Are Calculated
The Federal Government has a sentencing table which classifies each offender on a scale of 1 to 43. The higher the number, the more serious the crime. There are numerous factors that the government uses to assess the “offender level” of the defendant — including prior convictions.
In the cases against Huffman and Loughlin, the prosecutors consider the amount of money involved as part of their assessment. While Huffman allegedly paid $15,000, Loughlin and Giannulli allegedly paid $500,000.
Former prosecutor Adam Citron, who now works as a defense attorney, tells PEOPLE that prosecutors weigh different factors to determine the offender level. “There are guidelines,” Citron says, “but the government also has some discretion to decide how to move forward.”
Huffman Could Face Prison Time
Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 to admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer and his nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (“KWF”), which prosecutors said was actually a front for accepting bribes. Singer then allegedly facilitated cheating on Huffman’s daughter’s SAT test by having a proctor correct the teen’s answers after the fact.
As Huffman decided to plead guilty, the United States Attorney calculated her “offense level” at 9, which has a sentencing guideline of 4-10 months, per the Department of Justice chart. According to the plea documents obtained by PEOPLE, Huffman reserves the right to argue that her offense level should be a 7, which would result in 0-6 months in prison.
Additionally, Huffman would serve 12 months of probation, and pay a $20,000 fine.
The prosecution agrees to argue that Huffman serve on the “low end” of the sentencing guidelines, meaning that there’s a possibility that she could serve just a few months.
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Loughlin’s Potential Sentence is Much Higher
Loughlin, meanwhile, allegedly wanted her daughters to get into the University of Southern California so badly that she and Giannulli 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.
The amount of money involved in the case means that her “offense level” would be much higher than Huffman’s. Additionally, Huffman’s decision to plead guilty lowered her offense level; in the absence of a plea deal, Loughlin’s penalty will be significantly higher.
Officially, she faces up to 40 years in prison for the charges against her — but if she is found guilty and her sentencing is consistent with the other defendants, she will likely face closer to 3-5 years.
But legal experts tell PEOPLE that the actress may be doing herself a disservice with her public demeanor.
“There is some discretion involved in sentencing,” attorney Citron tells PEOPLE. “And she’s doing herself no favors by treating these court appearances like she’s going to the Oscars. What the court is looking for is humility.”
Attorneys for Loughlin, Giannulli and Huffman have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.