Attorneys from across the country sounded off in the wake of news that actress Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days for her role in a massive college cheating scandal.
“This is a very dark day for Lori Loughlin and the other parents that have not accepted responsibility,” said Washington D.C.-based business and entertainment lawyer Seth Berenzweig.
Berenzweig and attorneys located in New York and Chicago spoke to FOX Business following Friday’s sentencing in Boston’s John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse, noting first and foremost that the judge’s decision has set a tone for the other people involved in the federal investigation, dubbed "Varsity Blues."
“The case today involved a parent who put in a relatively low amount of money and immediately capitulated and confessed,” Bernzweig noted. “She was immediately repenting and remorseful.”
He called Talwani’s decision a “prediction and a blueprint for what lies ahead.”
“I can’t imagine what Lori Loughlin and her husband are thinking tonight,” he continued. “While this judge could have been clearly harsher on this defendant this is a loud warning shot to the other defendants.”
Chicago-based attorney Steven Greenberg, who has more than 30 years of experience as a defense attorney covering white-collar cases and state crimes, echoed Berenzweig’s thoughts, and said with this sentencing, the government made it clear to others involved: “We’re going to find out and we’re going to prosecute you, no matter who you are.”
“Some people would say it was a victimless crime,” Greenberg added, “but of course there was somebody else who didn’t get in because [Huffman’s] child did.”
Huffman, 56, and 54-year-old Loughlin, who is best known for her role as Aunt Becky in “Full House,” were among nearly 50 people arrested in March. Huffman, Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion-designer husband, the 55-year-old Mossimo Giannulli, were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Huffman pleaded guilty in May for paying $15,000 to have her daughter’s SAT scores fixed in 2017. Her actor husband, William H. Macy, who starred in the film "Fargo" and Showtime's hit "Shameless," was not named in court papers.
Thirteen other parents have allegedly copped to their crimes.
Loughlin and her husband were among 16 parents indicted in April on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The couple are accused of paying William “Rick” Singer — who, according to the Department of Justice, ran a “for-profit college counseling and preparation business” – approximately $500,000 to create nonexistent positions for their daughters on the University of Southern California’s crew team even though neither had ever taken part in the sport.
“Rest assured, other than Ms. Huffman and her immediate family, Ms. Loughlin was likely the second most anxious person awaiting the judge’s decision with bated breath,” New York City-based defense attorney and former prosecutor Jeremy Saland said.
“Barring an Emmy-winning performance and acquittal at trial, the ugly reality is that Ms. Loughlin’s next role will be an inmate in a federal penitentiary.”
Saland has previously prosecuted a professional test-taking ring involving more than 500 students who had recruited an imposter to take their GRE, GMAT and similar exams.
“Not only did [prosecutors] need to demonstrate that society’s entitled upper crust should not get a mere walk because of their celebrity and the white-collar nature of their criminality,” he continued, “but if successful in their bid to incarcerate Ms. Huffman for any duration, then those who are convicted of more egregious conduct involving greater dollars should have no misgivings.”
Meanwhile, Julie Rendelman, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor who is also based in New York, said people are quick to “assume [Loughlin] committed this crime.”
“She’s exercising her right to hold their feet to the fire,” Rendelman said, calling Loughlin “someone who is exercising her right to make the prosecutors prove their case.”
The bottom line, Colorado-based defense lawyer Sharon Liko noted, is that unless Loughlin pleads guilty, she will go to trial like any person would.
“Lori Loughlin has not plead guilty and Lori Loughlin is going to go to trial," Liko said, matter-of-factly. "Who knows what that outcome is going to be. If she’s found not guilty, that’s the end of it. If she’s found guilty she’s going to be sentenced like everybody else."
The Associated Press and FOX News's Andrew Fone contributed to the reporting for this story.