A former University of Southern California soccer coach who helped get actor Lori Loughlin’s daughters into the university on sham rowing credentials told jurors Monday that she regularly crafted fake athletic profiles and filled them with made-up accolades and images she found on Google to get unqualified students admitted.
Laura Janke, 39, of North Hollywood, Calif., is the first coach to testify in the Varsity Blues national scandal. Janke’s frank first-person account kicked off the third week of the trial in US District Court in Boston.
She testified of her role in an alleged scheme that allowed the super wealthy to bribe their children into elite universities as falsely classified athletic recruits. When it came time to put together an applicant’s profile, Janke said she generally didn’t even know whether the student played a sport.
“Sometimes I would Google the student’s name and no information would come up on them,” Janke testified. “I knew that even if they did play the sport, they weren’t at the [collegiate] level … and I was going to have to fill in and falsify information, either way.”
Aside from USC, Janke said she paved the way for unqualified athletes to get into UCLA, Stanford, and Yale as rowing, water polo, tennis, and basketball recruits.
“We tried to make it sound like they would be a benefit to the team and make an impact on the team,” Janke said.
Janke, who worked at USC from 2007 to 2014 as an assistant soccer coach, told jurors she falsified Sabrina Abdelaziz’s profile as a basketball recruit from a Hong Kong school. Sabrina’s father, Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, a former Wynn Resorts executive, is charged with paying $300,000 to get his daughter into USC as a basketball player even though she failed to make her high school varsity team.
“I had to make it believable enough without raising any red flags,” Janke said under oath Monday.
She didn’t know how tall Sabrina Abdelaziz was, so she made it up, along with the position she played, making her a 5 foot 8 inch point guard, Janke said.
Same with stats. “I just came up with those,” Janke said.
Standing trial with Abdelaziz is co-defendant John B. Wilson, of Lynnfield. The 62-year-old hedge fund owner and former Staples and Gap Inc. executive is charged with paying $220,000 to get his son recruited to USC water polo, as well as another $1 million to buy his twin daughters’ ways into Harvard and Stanford.
Defense lawyers maintain that their clients thought they were making legitimate contributions to the universities.
In her testimony, Janke said she and the scheme’s alleged mastermind, admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, had a lucrative relationship, sometimes splitting as much as $50,000 in bribes per student.
Prosecutors say the scheme grossed some $25 million over several years.
Singer cooperated with the FBI, wore a wire, and recorded calls with parents. He has pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of justice.
Singer supplied the students and Janke supplied the profiles, Janke testified. She never met or communicated with parents, including Abdelaziz, she said.
In one e-mail shown to jurors from Aug. 7, 2017, with the subject line “Sabrina,” Janke told Singer: “Let me know if you want any awards added, of if you think that is enough.”
A top admissions USC official testified earlier in the trial that Abdelaziz’s daughter, who allegedly got accepted on the strength of the fake basketball accolades, remains enrolled at the school.
Janke said she met Singer through another USC coach. He trusted Singer, and so she did too, Janke tearfully said.
Janke brokered a plea deal with prosecutors: her testimony in exchange for a guilty plea to a single racketeering and conspiracy charge. Janke pleaded guilty in May 2019. She faces 27 months in federal prison.
She is hoping for leniency.
“I’ve agreed to tell the truth. I’ve agreed to tell exactly what I did,” Janke said, her voice quaking with emotion. “I don’t want to go to jail.”
She said she needed to admit to what she had done so that she can be a role model to her two daughters.
“Every day I feel ashamed and embarrassed for what I’ve done,” Janke said. “I need to show them that you need to take responsibility even when you’ve really messed up, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Janke’s sentence will ultimately be up to a judge to decide.
Though Wilson and Abdelaziz were among dozens of prominent parents and athletic coaches arrested nationwide when the college admissions scandal hit national headlines 2½ years ago, they are the first to go to trial.
Prosecutors have told the judge they expect to rest their case Wednesday. US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton told jurors he is confident the case will be finished by Oct. 8.
Another parent, Marci Palatella, was supposed to join Abdelaziz and Wilson at trial. She instead pleaded guilty last month to paying $500,000 to get her son into USC as a football recruit.
Palatella, chief executive officer of a California liquor distribution company, was the 33rd parent to plead guilty in the case.
Last year, Loughlin and her clothes designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges. Loughlin served two months in federal prison and Giannulli served five months.
When compiling their daughter Olivia Jade Giannulli’s profile as a rowing recruit, Janke said she remembered trying to find a photo on Google of a young woman rowing with her face partially covered.
“I didn’t necessarily know what she looked like, and I didn’t want to tip anyone off that it wasn’t really her,” Janke told jurors.
Three other parents are scheduled to go to trial in January.
Material from The Associated Press was included in this report.