Lawyers for Hollywood star Lori Loughlin and several other defendants in the nationwide college admissions cheating case say the scam’s mastermind deleted evidence after he agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.
The allegation against William “Rick” Singer, who secretly recorded phone conversations with parents at the behest of the FBI, was contained in a letter to prosecutors dated Feb. 19 and signed by attorneys for Loughlin, her husband, and seven other defendants charged in the high-profile case.
Loughlin, whose scene-stealing portrayal of Aunt Becky on the beloved sitcom “Full House” endeared her to millions, and her fashion mogul husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are both charged with several felonies for allegedly agreeing to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to get their daughters admitted to USC as fake crew recruits.
The Hollywood power couple has pleaded not guilty to all counts. USC confirmed in October that their daughters no longer attend the school.
Loughlin and Giannulli are two of the more than 50 people charged in the scheme, in which wealthy parents allegedly cut hefty checks to Singer to get their children falsely classified as sports recruits at selective schools — effectively paving the way to admission — or to facilitate cheating on the kids’ SAT and ACT exams when the scores needed some buffing.
Prosecutors say parents masked the bribe payments by making purported donations to Singer’s sham charity, and that Singer directed payments to corrupt college employees, coaches, and test proctors in on the con.
The Feb. 19 letter from defense lawyers, included in court papers filed Thursday in US District Court in Boston, said Singer started cooperating with federal authorities in September 2018.
According to the letter, “it appears a substantial number — approximately 250 — of Mr. Singer’s iMessages after late September 2018 (after Mr. Singer became a cooperator) have been deleted, including messages with defendants in this case.”
Among the deleted material was the record of an October 2018 iMessage conversation that Singer had with actress Felicity Huffman, the letter said. The letter did not say what the content of the conversation was.
Huffman, the former “Desperate Houswives” star who floored critics with her gutsy performance in the film “Transamerica," pleaded guilty in September to a fraud charge for paying a $15,000 bribe to pad her daughter’s SAT score and served less than two weeks in prison.
Lawyers for Loughlin and the other defendants noted in the letter that deleting evidence in a federal case is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The attorneys wrote that they’re requesting “a list of all Mr. Singer’s crimes that the government has decided it will not prosecute.”
“[D]efendants request the full extraction reports for Mr. Singer’s phones,” the letter said. “The defendants must be able to review the full extraction reports because the extraction reports may show remnants of metadata from deleted messages.”
The office of US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling hadn’t responded to the filing as of Friday morning, and a lawyer for Singer didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment. Singer has admitted to his starring role in the ruse and awaits sentencing.
The contents of Singer’s phone had already made news this week.
On Wednesday, the government handed over to the defense material from Singer’s iPhone after, prosecutors say, his lawyer had waived attorney-client privilege. The material included notes Singer typed on his phone in October 2018 indicating investigators were pressuring him to falsely state that he told parents their payments were bribes, rather than legitimate donations to the schools.
The issue could be crucial. Lawyers for Loughlin and other defendants maintain that if Singer told parents the payments were legitimate donations, then the parents lacked the intent to defraud the colleges, a key element necessary for conviction.
Prosecutors contend that regardless of how Singer characterized the payments, the parents knew they were bribes founded on deception.
“You pay the money, you get in as a fake athlete,” Assistant US Attorney Eric S. Rosen said during a court hearing Thursday, adding that USC doesn’t have a policy to admit “fake rowers" or “fake football players.”
In Loughlin’s case, prosecutors allege Singer told her and Giannulli via e-mail in 2016 that their older daughter should pose for a photo on a rowing machine in workout clothes to look like “a real athlete” as part of her USC application.
The feds also say the older daughter submitted a fake 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 at the iconic race in 2017, among other accolades.
In addition, an affidavit filed by investigators in the case said Singer told Loughlin during one secretly recorded call that his charity was being audited and if the IRS contacted her, she should know “that nothing has been said about the girls, your donations helping the girls get into USC to do ... crew even though they didn’t do crew, so nothing like that has been ever mentioned.”
Loughlin said at one point, “So we — so we just have to say we made a donation to your foundation and that’s it, end of story,” the affidavit said.
Singer told her “that is correct,” the affidavit said, and he told Giannulli in an earlier call, “I just want to make sure that our stories are the same ... and that your $400K was paid to our foundation to help underserved kids.”
“Uh, perfect,” Giannulli said, according to the filing.