Lawyers for actress Lori Loughlin and her husband accused federal prosecutors of misconduct in the college admissions scandal on Thursday, saying they concealed evidence for more than a year that could exonerate their clients.
In US District Court in Boston, Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton described the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct as “very serious" and directed Loughlin’s attorneys to file a motion to dismiss, suppress evidence, or sanction prosecutors by March 13. Prosecutors must file a response by March 27.
Loughlin and her fashion mogul husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are among more than 50 people charged in the massive bribery scheme, in which wealthy parents allegedly paid large sums to help get their children into top colleges through fraudulent academic and athletic credentials.
Prosecutors say the admitted ringleader of the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, directed payments to corrupt coaches, college officials and test proctors in on the scheme. Parents masked some bribes by disguising them as contributions to Singer’s sham charity, prosecutors say. Singer has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.
In a legal filing Wednesday, lawyers for Loughin and Giannulli said the government had only hours earlier turned over notes from Singer’s iPhone. In the notes, Singer wrote that FBI agents were trying to get him to lie by saying he told parents their payments were bribes, rather than legitimate donations to the schools.
The defense contends that if Loughlin and Giannulli thought they were making legitimate donations to the University of Southern California, then they lacked the intent to knowingly defraud the school, a key element necessary for conviction.
“Loud and abrasive call with agents,” Singer typed at one point on his phone, according to the defense filing. “They continue to ask me to tell a fib and not restate what I told my clients as to where there money was going - to the program not the coach and that it was a donation and they want it to be a payment."
This disclosure should have been made no later than 30 days after indictment under court rules, Loughlin’s lawyers wrote. The couple was initially arrested with the other defendants in March 2019 and indicted by a grand jury the following month. Multiple superseding indictments have since been brought.
Prosecutors have said they learned of Singer’s iPhone notes in October 2018 and initially “believed the notes were privileged [between Singer and his lawyer] and did not review them further.” This week, “Singer’s counsel agreed to waive privilege over the notes, and so we are now producing them” to the defense, prosecutors wrote.
In court on Thursday, Assistant US Attorney Eric S. Rosen told Gorton that the government alleges the payments were “still a bribe," no matter how Singer characterized them.
“This was a quid pro quo,” Rosen said, adding that multiple parents have pleaded guilty in the “Varsity Blues” case and conceded the payments were bribes.
Loughlin and her husband have pleaded not guilty to several felonies for allegedly agreeing to pay $500,000 in bribes to have their daughters classified as crew recruits, even though neither rowed competitively.
“You pay the money, you get in as a fake athlete,” Rosen said, adding that USC doesn’t have a policy to admit “fake rowers” or “fake football players."
He also said prosecutors have previously denied the existence of any written documentation of Singer claiming to tell the parents the payouts were legitimate donations.
Prosecutors have previously said that Singer told Loughlin and Giannulli by e-mail in 2016 that they should make their older daughter look like a “real athlete" to present her to USC as a crew recruit.
“Singer sent an e-mail to Giannulli and Loughlin stating that he needed a copy of their older daughter’s transcript and test scores ‘very soon while I create a coxswain portfolio for her,'" prosecutors wrote in October. "It would probably help to get a picture of her on an ERG in workout clothes like a real athlete too.’ Giannulli replied: ‘Fantastic. Will get all.’”
The older daughter also submitted a sports resume as part of her application in which she falsely claimed that she finished in 11th place at the Head of the Charles Regatta in 2016 and 14th place the following year, among other bogus accolades.
In October, USC confirmed the daughters are no longer enrolled at the university.
Gorton set a tentative trial date for Loughlin, her husband, and several other defendants, for October 5.