Oh no, Aunt Becky.
That seemed to be the initial collective reaction when the news broke on Tuesday that Lori Loughlin was charged with being part of an alleged $25 million racketeering scheme that helped wealthy American parents get their children into elite universities. Along with Loughlin, Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman was among the 50 people named in the scandal that has rocked Hollywood.
The Full House star and her husband, fashion mogul Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to help their daughters, Isabella and Olivia Jade Giannulli, gain admission into the University of Southern California, allegedly bribing rowing coaches at the Top 25 college that has a 17% acceptance rate.
Given Loughlin’s time opposite John Stamos as one-half of TV’s most beloved couples and prime spot as one of the squeaky-clean Hallmark Channel’s most beloved leading ladies, it was shocking for most people to learn of the charges, which resulted in her arrest on Wednesday.
It was a reputation Loughlin herself was well aware of.
“The sense that I get is that people feel like they know me, like I’m an old friend,” Loughlin, 54, told Salon in 2018. “They’re very warm and kind. The fans always seem to me very nice. They’re always nice to me and I’m nice to them.”
Now, one of TV’s most beloved aunts is being called out as one of the 50 people being accused of using “wealth combined with fraud” to help her daughters, one an aspiring actress and the other a successful YouTube star, cheat the system.
When the topic of YouTube came up in the interview with Salon, Loughlin was quick to commend Olivia, now 19, for finding success on the channel after she joined it at the age of 14.
“She started a YouTube channel around makeup and beauty and now she’s an ambassador for Sephora and she wants to have her own makeup line one day and she’s totally moving in that direction, but she started that channel on her own,” she said. “She did it all herself. I laugh. She’s a one-woman production company. She hosts the show. She edits the show. She adds the music. She does the graphics. She comes up with the content. She produces the whole thing.”
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And the whole thing has become a pretty big deal in the digital space, landing Olivia 2 million subscribers on YouTube, 1.3 million followers on Instagram, her own app, and lucrative partnerships.
In December 2019, she released her own highlight palette with Sephora just one month after debuting a clothing collection through Princess Polly, and Amazon Prime furnished Olivia’s dorm room at USC through a paid endorsement deal.
Before the scandal broke, even more partnerships and products were in the works, with Olivia stressing to her followers that YouTube was still her No. 1 priority.
Before starting classes as USC in September, Olivia received heat for comments she made about attending college.
“I don’t know how much of school I’m gonna attend,” she said in one of her videos, referring to her busy schedule. “But I’m gonna go in and talk to my deans and everyone, and hope that I can try and balance it all. But I do want the experience of like game days, partying…I don’t really care about school, as you guys all know.”
Following the backlash, Olivia addressed her “ignorant” comments in a follow-up video, apologizing to any of her followers she may have offended.
“I said something super ignorant and stupid, basically. And it totally came across that I’m ungrateful for college—I’m going to a really nice school. And it just kind of made it seem like I don’t care, I just want to brush it off,” she explained. “I’m just gonna be successful at YouTube and not have to worry about school. I watch it back and…I’m really disappointed in myself.”
After heading to USC, Olivia often updated her channel with videos all about life at college, saying in an interview, “It’s also cool to create content from a whole different side of things, like in school.”
While Olivia often acknowledged her famous parents in her videos and on social media, she recently spoke about not using the privilege afforded to her via their success to her professional advantage.
“I don’t ever want to depend on someone else for my success,” Olivia said. “Like, I might come from a family that’s done well, but I don’t ever want that to guide me in a certain direction. I’ve used what I’ve come from to create content and I’ve figured out the things people like to see because of how I’ve grown up. But at the end of the day, I want to make my own money and support myself. I don’t ever want to have to ask someone if I can do something. I want to be able to have full control over what I’m doing with my life.”
For Bella, 20, and Olivia, 19, growing up with famous parents just seemed normal. “I never think anything of it, I know I always say that, but it’s the truth,” Olivia told her followers in a video.
During a People interview with Loughlin, Bella, who once called Olivia her “built-in buddy since birth,” said her mom is “embarrassing” out in public, proving even if your mom is famous she will always embarrass you. For example: The girls refused to let Loughlin join Snapchat and often fixed her photos before she posted them to Instagram.
In fact, their childhood seemed pretty idyllic, with Christmas vacations spent skiing in Colorado and Sunday mornings spent just with the family at home.
“It was great when they were little,” Loughlin said during the BUILD Series interview. “I loved Sunday afternoons so much…because we’d get up in the morning and we’d stay in our pajamas and they’d just play together by the hour and I would give them lunch and they’d go back and play. It was just so nice, we didn’t do a lot playdates; it was just our little group. It was lovely.”
While John Stamos was known as Uncle Jesse to adoring fans, he was basically Uncle John for Loughlin’s daughters. He even would appear in some of Olivia’s YouTube videos, notably gushing over her in one posted in December 2018.
“Can I just say how proud I am of you?” he told the teen. “You’re such a good girl, you have good values and you project good morals.”
And in yet another social media post that has taken on new meaning since the alleged scheme was uncovered, Stamos once responded to Olivia on Twitter when she wrote that she prioritized her YouTube channel over her schoolwork.
Even before Fuller House brought the cast back together on-screen in 2016, Loughlin and her family had remained tight with her other co-stars off-screen as well, with Candace Cameron Bure and her daughter Natasha Bure, now 20, often hanging with the Giannulli girls over the years and appearing in some of Olivia’s videos.
While not quite as Insta-famous as her younger sister, Bella has amassed her own following on social media as well, with her (now private) Instagram account pulling in 260,000 followers.
Wanting to follow in her mom’s footsteps, Bella’s career aspiration is to be an actress.
In her interview with Salon, Loughlin admitted she had some reservations about Bella entering show business, but “she is in school and I’m glad. She just finished her first year of college and she really enjoys it and I think she’ll get her degree. And I just said to her, ‘Look, have some back up plan. Get a degree and something else. You can study theater [and] whatever you need to also at school.'”
In 2016, Bella made her acting debut opposite her mom in Hallmark Channel’s Every Christmas Has A Story.
“The opportunity did present itself, and it was Bella’s first acting job ever,” Loughlin told People. “I thought, ‘Wow, how special for me to be a part of that.'”
On a BUILD Series panel to promote the film, Loughlin admitted, “I’ve done everything in my power to discourage them from becoming actors only because I know the flip-side too…it’s a hard business.”
“I think I’ve shown her and presented all the pitfalls that there might be. I would be a hypocrite at this point to say no, you can’t do it, because I’m doing it. She sees me and I’m making a living,” Loughlin told Salon. “And then there’s a part of me that goes yes, it’s a hard business, but why not her? I guess if you work hard enough and you pursue, you can. It’s a lot of luck but you can create that for yourself.”
Bella once again co-starred with Loughlin in her 2018 Hallmark Channel Christmas outing, Homegrown Christmas, with Loughlin’s character pushing Bella’s to fight to pursue her dream of attending a fashion design school.
Aside from encouraging them to pursue their professional aspirations, Loughlin told Us Weekly in 2016 that she wanted to “instill good values” in her daughters.
“Look, I try to instill good values and be a good person, and for the most part, I have to say that my girls, they are good people,” she said. “They are good people. They have good hearts.”
And, like most parents, she wanted her kids to be happy and experience all the things she felt she missed out on in her childhood.
“I want them to be happy,” she told ET in 2016. “I want to be supportive of everything they want to do, but I do want them to have somewhat of a normal [life]. Finish out high school, college experience, maybe because I didn’t have that, I really want that for them.”
Growing up on Long Island in a working class household, Loughlin landed her first acting role when she was 16, starring on the soap opera The Edge of Night for three years before landing the role that would make her famous on Full House in 1988.
“I was a kid from Long Island…in a middle class household and my dad worked for the New York telephone company,” she said. “The odds of me becoming an actress and even working were so slim to none but I did it.”
Throughout her run on the beloved ’90s sitcom, Loughlin was married to investment banker Michael J. Burns, with the couple later divorcing in 1996.
Loughlin and Giannulli met at as restaurant in Los Angeles and in 1997, they eloped, exchanging vows wearing sweatpants and ski hats on Thanksgiving Day in Newport Beach.
Much like his wife, Giannulli, who has one son from a previous marriage (Gianni Gene Giannulli, founder of The Smart Co.), didn’t come from a wealthy background.
“He didn’t come from a lot, so it’s cool to see that he built it all himself,” Olivia Jade said on The Zach Sang Show. “He, like, built his whole entire brand.”
That brand being Mossimo, the multi-billion dollar clothing company that was sold in Target until 2017.
He first launched the brand in 1986 when he was 22, borrowing $100,00 from his father and dropping out of USC the following year to focus on his clothing line full-time.
“He wasn’t actually, like, I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, ever enrolled in college,” Olivia shared in the interview. “But he, like, faked his way through it and then he started his whole business with tuition money that his parents thought was going to college. That’s, like, such a different time. I don’t know if I was supposed to say that, but it’s OK.”
By 1996, the brand was worth $275 million and landed the major deal with Target in 2000. Six years later, Giannulli sold the brand to Iconix Brand Group, and the 55-year-old is reportedly worth $80 million.
Despite their respective success stories without receiving a college diploma, it was important to the couple that their daughters go to college. But in a recently resurfaced interview with Page Six, Loughlin talked about never pressuring the girls.
“I never push my kids. I always say do the best you can. My husband, too, we were never like, ‘You gotta get straight As.’ We were never those parents,” she said. “We were like, ‘You know what, give it your all and do the best you can.’ Because in life, if give it your all and do the best you can, that’s it, that’s all you can do. And that’s enough, in my opinion.
She continued, “I think with kids, we put so much pressure and stress on them and a lot of it is unnecessary.”
In her interview with the Zach Sang Show, Olivia admitted, “Mostly my parents wanted me to go because both of them didn’t go to college. I’m so happy they made me go.”
She quickly added, “That sounds so terrible. They didn’t make me. My sister goes to the same school and we are pretty much inseparable, so it was nice following in her footsteps in a little bit. I do like it.”
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Now, multiple outlets report that Olivia and Bella will likely not return to the school when classes resume, with USC issuing a statement detailing the school’s plan to carry out “a case-by-case review of current students and graduates who may be connected to the alleged scheme.”
Aside from leaving school, Sephora has cut ties with Olivia, who was pegged to be the next young makeup mogul, her Polly Princess collection has been pulled from the brand’s web site, and Tresemme has publicly said they are “no longer working” with the teen.
But she’s not the only Giannulli family member suffering major professional blows.
Loughlin, whose net worth is reported to be $20 million, the family-friendly Hallmark Channel has severed all ties with one of its biggest and most beloved stars.
“We are saddened by the recent news surrounding the college admissions allegations,” the network said in a statement. “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.”
As for her hit Hallmark show When Calls the Heart, which is in its seventh season, the future is uncertain.
“The series will not air on Sunday, March 17. We are evaluating all creative options related to When Calls the Heart series,” the network said.
Meanwhile, her role on Fuller House‘s upcoming final season on Netflix remains up in the air.
And now, Loughlin is potentially facing up to five years in prison if she is convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
The actress, along with her husband, is currently out of jail on $1,000,000 bond, and they are expected to appear in a Boston Federal court on March 29.
Just two of the 50 people charged in “Operation Varsity Blues,” the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted, the couple was described as part of “a catalog of wealth in privilege” by the Department of Justice.
“There can be no separate college-admission system for the wealthy and I’ll add there will not be a separate criminal-justice system either,” Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said at a press conference.
A source told E! News that the entire family is living in what “feels like a terrible nightmare.”
“They can’t come out and face the world,” the source said. “They are in seclusion and alone with the exception of their lawyers.”
Back in 2016, Loughlin was asked by a fan how always seemed to maintain her positive outlook on life.
“I think it’s just my attitude in life and I’m going to say it has to do with my parents and how I was raised. My mom and dad were always really positive people and my mom always said, every day, ‘Count your blessings,'” she answered. “I think I always go back to that. Even when I feel like maybe I’m under a lot of pressure or a lot of stress or the day’s getting my down…I always do stop and think, OK, count my blessings.”
While she added she was grateful for her long career as an actor, she said something else was far more important to her.
“The fact that I’m still working at my age, as much as I’m working right now, I feel so lucky and so fortunate in that my children are growing up and they’ve turned into lovely young women…they’re nice people and I can look back and say, ‘Wow, my husband and I have raised nice people. And that’s all that I’ve ever wanted, is for my children to be good people and happy people and kind and to give back in the world.”
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