Former “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman and actress Lori Loughlin, best known for playing Aunt Becky on “Full House,” are facing court appearances later this month related to allegations they participated in a college admissions cheating scheme. In the court of public opinion, however, it’s hard to say whether fans and Hollywood will, as Uncle Jesse says, “Have mercy.”
Loughlin, who faces felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, is already feeling the adverse business effects of her alleged involvement in the scam. The Hallmark Channel on Thursday severed ties with the actress, who frequently appeared in their programs, including the “Garage Sale Mystery” TV movie series.
Her daughter, YouTube personality Olivia Jade Giannulli, has also lost a lucrative advertisement deal with Sephora.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to designate their two daughters as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team, even though they did not participate in crew, according to court documents released Tuesday.
Huffman, meanwhile, is accused of paying $15,000 to a fake charity to facilitate cheating for her daughter on the SATs, the complaint says.
Representatives for Loughlin and Huffman declined to comment when contacted by CNN.
“There has been a tremendous amount of news coverage and expressed feelings by politicians and Hollywood celebrities themselves about income inequality, higher taxes on the rich and redistribution of wealth,” Susan Tellem, a senior partner at Tellem Grody PR with 40 years of crisis management experience, tells CNN. “Because of these recent discussions, it is likely that Hollywood figures may be judged more harshly then say five or ten years ago.”
The good news for Loughlin and Huffman, however, is that “the public has a short memory when it comes to their favorite celebrities,” Tellem says. Particularly those with whom audiences have fond, warm memories.
Loughlin’s reputation with viewers is an undoubtedly wholesome one. First known to most television viewers as plucky broadcaster Rebecca Donaldson on “Full House,” her character eventually married John Stamos’s Jesse Katsopolis — together forming an idyllic image of a young, happy couple.
Her second act on Hallmark preceded a reboot of the series on Netflix, “Fuller House,” on which she was a guest star.
Huffman’s career choices have ranged greatly in her decades on the big and small screens, from an Oscar-nominated role in “Transamerica” to a comedic run on shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Sports Night.” But her off-screen involvement with Time’s Up — of which she was an early supporter — and various charitable causes helped her and husband William H. Macy earn favorable reputations in Hollywood.
“Actors and other celebrities are often able to overcome damage to their reputation better than everyday folks because people feel an affinity toward them and the characters they play,” says Evan Nierman, CEO of crisis PR firm Red Banyan.
He points to Martha Stewart’s comeback after being convicted of obstruction of justice, making false statements and conspiracy for lying to investigators as an example.
The author, television personality and entrepreneur served five months in prison after her 2004 federal conviction.
The “fairly bland nature of the charges against her” worked in her favor, Nierman says, as did “the public persona she cultivated.”
“The path to redemption is much more accessible to people who commit white-collar crimes or are arrested for drug offenses than for those who commit violent crimes,” Nierman says.
Lou Shapiro, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney, thinks so long as Huffman and Loughlin “demonstrate sincere remorse for their actions and pay their debt to society, they can resurrect themselves.”
“Today, the news is fresh and society’s anger and disgust is at a high,” Shapiro says. “Over the course of the next several months, after tempers cool, I expect that the public will view this case more analytically than emotionally, and realize that a federal state prison sentence on a first-time white-collar offense, under these facts, with these parents, might be a bit too punitive.”
Both Tellem and Nierman say “time will tell” how the long-term trajectory of their careers will be impacted by the allegations or a conviction.
But Nierman says, “America is a forgiving place for celebrities.”
“Both should expect to face withering criticism in the days ahead since this story touches a nerve, especially for parents without the means to pay their kids’ way into prestigious schools,” he says. “Expect this topic to dog Huffman and Loughlin since the nature of the sting operation reveals famous, rich and powerful people apparently playing by a different set of rules than everyone else.”