Citing “serious and disturbing” allegations of law enforcement misconduct, a federal judge in Boston on Friday demanded more information from prosecutors in the college admissions scam case that has ensnared dozens of wealthy and prominent parents, including Hollywood actress Lori Loughlin.
In a three-page order posted Friday, US District Court Nathaniel M. Gorton said defense allegations that law enforcement officials coached the scheme’s admitted mastermind William"Rick" Singer during taped conversations with some defendants on Oct. 2, 2018, raised serious ethical concerns he cannot ignore.
"The Court considers the allegations in Singer’s October notes to be serious and disturbing,'' wrote. “While government agents are permitted to coach cooperating witnesses during the course of an investigation, they are not permitted to suborn the commission of a crime.”
Prosecutors from US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling’s office turned over messages culled from an iPhone that Singer had on Oct. 2, 2018, that are now at the heart of a defense request that all charges be dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct. The defense contends prosecutors have violated their duty to hand over exculpatory evidence by not providing the iPhone information this year.
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.
“Loud and abrasive call with agents,” Singer typed at one point on his phone, according to court records. “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."
In his order Friday, Gorton ordered Lelling’s office to provide specific details of the interactions Singer had with any FBI agent or federal prosecutor on that particular day.
"In those notes Singer describes a troubling conversation,'' Gorton wrote. “He indicates that an unidentified agent named “Liz” and other unspecified ‘agents’ aggressively pressured him and directly instructed him to lie to elicit incriminating information from potential defendants.”
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.
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.
Lelling’s office, in a recent court filing, included photographs of the Loughlin’s daughters using rowing machines that the government says were taken to support the couple’s false claims that the daughters were active members of the rowing community.
Singer has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation.
Defense lawyers on Friday asked for an opportunity to make an oral argument for the dismissal of the charges. “This Court should either dismiss the indictment or suppress the consensual recordings and order an evidentiary hearing into Singer’s allegations of misconduct,” defense lawyers wrote.