Actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, told a federal judge in Boston Tuesday that they wish to retain their current attorneys despite prosecutors’ concerns that they pose potential conflicts of interest in the nationwide college bribery case.
The couple is charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to help their daughters gain admission to the University of Southern California by pretending to be recruits for the crew team.
The couple has pleaded not guilty and on Tuesday told US Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley they understood the risks of having one law firm represent them both in the case. They also indicated that they wished to be represented by their current counsel, and signed waivers to that effect.
The hearing, which drew a large news media contigent, did not involve details of their alleged roles in the college admissions scandal, but focused on ethical questions arising from their legal team. In a court filing, prosecutors asked whether the couple understood that having the firm Latham & Watkins LLP represent both of them posed a “significant risk.”
“Do you understand that continued dual representation at trial will prevent your attorneys from pursuing certain tactics that, though beneficial to your defense, may negatively impact your co-conspirator spouse?” federal prosecutors wrote.
The firm recently represented USC in real estate litigation, and prosecutors wanted Loughlin and Giannulli to state for the record that they are aware of that, according to court filings.
USC’s admissions and athletic departments are key figures in a sprawling investigation that has led to charges against some 50 wealthy parents for allegedly paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to William “Rick” Singer, the alleged ringleader of the scheme.
Federal prosecutors also raised concerns about a second firm representing Giannulli and Davina Isackson, a cooperating witness for the government. The authorities allege that Isackson and Giannulli are part of the same criminal conspiracy, saying they both helped their children get into college by using bribes and falsified athletic credentials.
“A firm owes a duty of loyalty to all of its clients,” Assistant US Attorney Eric Rosen said.
Rosen suggested the legal representation in the case could confuse jurors and said it was difficult to see how an 11-person firm, Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar LLP, which is representing Isackson and Giannulli, could “maintain an ethical wall.”
“I don’t really see how it would work,” he said.
But George W. Vien, of Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar, said Isackson has never met Giannulli and that the firm has adopted “very robust protections” against “cross-pollination of information.”
Kelley took the Isackson issue under advisement and indicated she would rule in a few days.
Singer, who has agreed to cooperate with the FBI, was secretly recorded making plans with parents to falsify the results of college entrance exams, create false athletic histories for children who never participated in sports, and funnel millions of dollars to a sham charity that Singer controlled.
Singer is free on $500,000 bond, records show. Sentencing is not set in his case.
According to court records, the Hollywood power couple allegedly arranged, via payoffs and photos of their daughters on rowing machines, to have their children presented to USC as recruits for the crew team, paving their way for admission, even though they had never rowed crew.
But the daughters’ guidance counselor began asking questions in late 2017.
“According to [Singer], the counselor did not believe that either of the Giannullis’ daughters participated in crew, and was concerned that their applications may have contained misleading information,” an FBI affidavit stated.
After the hearing, Loughlin, wearing a gray dress and gray cardigan, and Giannulli, dressed in a blue suit, were hustled through the throngs of reporters outside the courthouse to an SUV.