We Finally Understand Why Lori Loughlin Rejected Her Plea Deal

Lori Loughlin went from Aunt Becky to Becky with the bad rap sheet after she was arrested in March 2019 for her alleged role in a nationwide college admissions cheating scandal. And if there's one thing Americans love, it's watching a real-life soap opera play out in the public eye. And if the federal government says it wants to make an example out of the ultra-rich parents who are getting their kids into college by allegedly cheating the system, so much the better. Known by the codename "Operation Varsity Blues," the federal investigation resulted in charges being filed against more than 50 people, including high-profile defendants like actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

At least 20 defendants have pleaded guilty so far, according to WBUR, including Felicity Huffman. But one notable exception is fighting the charges. Here's what we know about Lori Loughlin and the plea deal she rejected in the college admissions scandal.

How Lori Loughlin got in this position

People reported that Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were accused of paying scam mastermind (and later cooperating witness) William "Rick" Singer's Key Worldwide Foundation $500,000 to get their daughters, Isabella and Olivia Jade, into the University of Southern California as crew team recruits. However, the foundation was reportedly used as a front for bribes.

The erstwhile When Calls the Heart actress and Giannulli were offered a plea agreement that likely would have included a minimum two-year prison sentence. Instead, they pleaded not guilty "to charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering," according to CNN.

That may have been a mistake. After Loughlin and Giannulli rejected the plea bargain offered to parents in the "Operation Varsity Blues" case, the couple was slapped with additional charges of money laundering and fraud. As of this writing, Loughlin and Giannulli now face hefty fines and "could spend years, if not decades" locked up, according to an attorney who spoke with Us WeeklyKnowing all that, why on Earth would Loughlin risk going from Full House to the big house? Here are a few theories.

Lori Loughlin is desperate to save her reputation

A source close to Lori Loughlin claimed that she rejected the prosecution's plea bargain because she believes that going to trial is the "only way" to clear her name and protect her legacy. Speaking with People, the source said, "[Lori] feels like once all the evidence is presented, that people will understand how things happened." Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli were reportedly upset at not just the potential for prison time, but at the public shaming they'd received. A source griped to People, "They're having to play this all out publicly, and they're fair game for jokes and memes, but also outraged [by] people who are saying that they are cheaters."

Insiders told CNN that Loughlin "reads everything that's written about her" and is in the process of hiring a crisis manager to deal with the fallout from the case. Her rep denied the claim. Other steps she and Giannulli have taken to reportedly preserve their personal brands included taking a private jet to court in Boston from Los Angeles, and Loughlin signing autographs outside the courtroom; a source told E! News that she channeled her "actress side" out of habit.

Lori Loughlin may not have known where her money was going

Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli may claim to have not known where their donation went, TMZ reported. Sources said the couple's attorneys will claim that in order to prove bribery, intent to commit and knowledge of said bribery must be present. Insiders say Loughlin and Giannulli didn't know how William "Rick" Singer intended on getting Olivia Jade and Isabella into USC, and that Loughlin and Giannulli's "only intent" was to use a "facilitator" who had helped hundreds of other students get into college. The couple will reportedly also cite the fact that wealthy people have donated buildings to colleges as a means of ensuring their own children's admissions later on.

There may be four separate issues with this defense, according to TMZ. First, Giannulli reportedly sent $100,000 directly to a USC assistant athletic director — not Singer's foundation. Second, Giannulli and Loughlin knew that Singer asked for photos of their daughters on rowing machines, but the couple reportedly didn't know what the photos would be used for. Third, per Fox News, there is likely "circumstantial evidence" (including emails regarding the IRS) mounting against Loughlin and Giannulli. Lastly, other witnesses and defendants (including former coach Laura Janke) may "flip" and testify against them.

Lori Loughlin thinks the evidence will exonerate her

Sources close to Lori Loughlin claimed that the actress is confident that she won't spend any time behind bars. An insider told People that Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli believe they have a healthy chance at an acquittal if their case goes to trial. "Everyone has seen snippets of the evidence, but there's a lot more out there. When you look at it in context, you can argue that this is a woman who didn't understand exactly what she was doing — and she was being counseled and guided by a man who this was his area of expertise," the insider claimed. "When the evidence comes out, she'll have a case to make."

More anonymous sources echoed the sentiment to Entertainment Tonight, explaining that Loughlin and Giannulli didn't realize they were breaking any laws and feel that they were "manipulated" by William "Rick" Singer. The sources claim that Giannulli and Loughlin were under the impression that their $500,000 was a charitable donation "to benefit the school," and that they didn't intend to or know that they may have laundered money.

Was Lori Loughlin's husband behind it?

Some reports claim that Mossimo Giannulli was the one who urged Lori Loughlin to engage in their alleged dealings with William "Rick" Singer, and it may have caused some serious strains on Lori and Mossimo's marriage. Insiders told Us Weekly that the couple is "constantly arguing," and that Loughlin's pals don't like Giannulli and believe he "concocted" the USC-admissions scheme.

If Giannulli was, in fact, behind their alleged participation, it wouldn't be the first time he'd used somewhat shady means for higher education. In a resurfaced 2016 interview, Giannulli claimed that he used his father's money given to him for tuition at USC to start his fashion business. USC confirmed to CNN that while Giannulli did attend the school, he wasn't "a fully matriculated student." Olivia Jade spilled the beans on her dad's college-age dealings when she was a guest on The Zach Sang Show, telling the host that he "faked his way" through college "and then he started his whole business with tuition money that his parents thought were going to college."

Lori Loughlin thought she would get a 'slap on the wrist'

Many insiders agree that the biggest reason Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli didn't plead their charges down is because they simply didn't think anything would happen to them. A source close to Loughlin told Entertainment Tonight that the actress thought she'd just get a "slap on the wrist" in the case. "Her closest friends have warned her she needs to be more humble and worry she's been misled through this process," the source said. "There seems to be a certain belief among her people she is above all of this and everything will be just fine. And it's becoming more and more evident that is not the case." 

Whether it's her denial or her desire to keep up appearances, sources say that while Loughlin is distraught on the inside, she's been doing her best to maintain her day to day life. An insider told People that Loughlin keeps up with yoga and Pilates classes (and sometimes the TMZ cameras that follow her out of them), lunch dates with pals, and church.

Prison may not be too bad for Lori Loughlin

Lori Loughlin was determined not to go to prison at all, which is why insiders say she initially rejected a plea deal — because any agreement she took would include time behind bars. A source told Entertainment Tonight, "The thought of being separated from her loved ones for years brought her to her knees. She has watched as the other families cut deals but her husband feels they are not guilty and should plead not guilty."

Working in Loughlin and Giannulli's favor, however, is the fact that neither has a criminal record, so if they do get sentenced to prison time, it'll likely be in a relatively swanky set of cells. "Based on these charges and the fact that they have not been in legal trouble before, and the fact that, probably, they are not a security risk, they'll probably be at a  minimum security prison," legal expert Rachel Stockman told Entertainment Tonight. "Very similar to the one Martha Stewart spent time at."

She and her husband were 'arrogant' and entitled

Lori Loughlin's attitude in court and leading up to her arrest may hurt her. The Atlantic reported that when Olivia Jade and Isabella's high school guidance counselor questioned their recruitment to USC as crew team members, Mossimo Giannulli allegedly "roared onto the high-school campus apoplectic." Their apparent incredulity continued in the scandal's aftermath. The sketch artist in Loughlin's first arraignment told Yahoo! Entertainment that she had full hair and makeup and appeared "a little arrogant" and "defiant." Illustrator Mona Shafer Edwards explained that Loughlin's demeanor was "kind of a defensive deflection like, 'Don't touch me. What am I doing here? Where are my people? When am I getting out?'"

Attorney Brad Micklin, who isn't involved in the case, told Inside Edition that Loughlin handled the appearance "poorly." The Daily Beast even reported Loughlin got "shushed" in court. Crisis manager Howard Bragman, who doesn't work for Loughlin but says he's "known her 'for years,'" told Elle that her autograph-signings outside of court "didn't help" either. "If you're possibly going to jail, I think your posture should parallel that," he said. "You have to look like it's the worst day of your life. I don't think there's sympathy for her."

Lori Loughlin did what she assumed every other rich mom would do

Lori Loughlin was apparently so firmly inside her privileged bubble that it was lost on her that other parents wouldn't have allegedly bribed their kids' ways into college. A source told People that the actress was aware that her actions were "entitled and perhaps selfish," but noted, "It's just taking some time for it to sink in that what she was allegedly doing could be considered illegal. To her, it wasn't egregious behavior." The source added, once more, that while Loughlin may have thought her behavior wasn't squeaky clean that she didn't realize she was actually breaking the law. "From the beginning, she didn't want to take a deal," the source said, "because she felt that she hadn't done anything that any mom wouldn't have done, if they had the means to do so."

Sources claimed to People in a separate report that Loughlin was obsessed with her daughters attending USC, noting that it was "very much a status thing" among her social circles. Unfortunately for Loughlin, her obsession with keeping up with the Joneses may have made the Joneses avoid her: Entertainment Tonight reported that many of her friends don't believe the scandal was a misunderstanding. In another report, insiders told the outlet that Loughlin's friends don't share her values, and have begun to maintain their distance from the family.

Felicity Huffman's fate may be guiding Lori Loughlin's, too

Aside from Lori Loughlin, the other most high-profile celebrity involved in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal was Felicity Huffman, who paid $15,000 to scam leader William "Rick" Singer to have a test proctor correct her daughter's answers on the SAT. Huffman, unlike Loughlin, pleaded guilty and expressed great remorse for her actions, and it worked out in her favor: She was sentenced to 250 hours of community service, a $30,000 fine and just 14 days in prison. The actress was released after just 10 days behind bars

TMZ reported that after Huffman's sentencing, a plea bargain likely would have worked out pretty well for Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli based on the probation report for the Desperate Housewives star, which said no one was harmed by her crime. Despite the prosecution's urging for a year behind bars for Huffman, the probation department reportedly would have approved just a fine and no prison time at all. As a result, prosecutors allegedly didn't want another embarrassment if Loughlin was found guilty in a trial and received a short sentence.

Will new charges finally get Lori Loughlin to take a plea deal?

The timing of TMZ's report that made a new plea bargain for Lori Loughlin sound promising likely wasn't a coincidence: Later that day, the outlet reported that the actress and husband Mossimo Giannulli were each hit with an additional charge of "Federal Program Bribery," alleging that the starlet and clothing designer bribed a school "that receives federal funding." The new charge could tack on five more years each for Loughlin and Giannulli — on top of the potential maximum of 40 years they each faced already.

Sources told Us Weekly that after seeing Felicity Huffman's lenient sentence, and being hit with the new charges, Loughlin considered a plea bargain, but ultimately didn't take it because Giannulli refused. "Lori turned the corner and backed out of considering a guilty plea due to her husband's insistence," a source said. "She had been talking to her lawyers about it, but her friends and family were encouraging her to pursue a plea deal. She's only listening to Mossimo though." 

Another insider told People that Loughlin regretted not taking the original deal offered earlier in the case, adding, "But taking the deal would have admitted guilt, and she believes she was duped by unscrupulous people who enriched themselves off her. It is her position that she was not some sort of criminal mastermind. She just wanted what was best for her daughters. And it has turned into an ongoing nightmare."

Lori Loughlin's family is horrified at her potential future

After being hit with an additional charge of Federal Program Bribery, Lori Loughlin became more terrified than ever at her potential fate. An insider told ET that Loughlin is "convinced that the prosecution is determined to make an example of her," which is a big reason why she refused the plea deal. But the reality of her situation is finally sinking in, and it's not good. 

Loughlin's daughters (above) are similarly concerned, the source said. "The family has united and the children are in full support of their parents. The girls feel so much guilt because they now know their parents took all these risks for their future and, even though it was wrong, they know they only wanted what was best for them." The insider added, "The new bribery charge has affected everyone. Emotionally the whole family has suffered tremendously and it has taken its toll. They are all scared to death."