The prosecution in the Lori Loughlin case on Wednesday denied defence claims that the FBI had entrapped her and other unwitting parents into participating in the college admissions bribery scheme.
Last month, attorneys representing Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, argued that the case should be thrown out due to government misconduct. They cited the notes of William “Rick” Singer, the college admissions consultant at the heart of the case, arguing that the notes showed that agents had browbeaten him into implicating his clients in criminal behaviour.
“The defendants’ core allegations of misconduct are premised on a straw man: that this case is only about bribery,” proclaimed the response from the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts’ office filed this afternoon. “It is not,” added U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in reply to the motion by Loughlin, her fashion designer spouse Mossimo Giannulli, STX Entertainment backer William McGlashan and others to see their Operation Varsity Blues troubles dismissed or at least put under the scrutiny of an evidentiary hearing.
The attorneys also charged that the prosecution had withheld the notes for nearly nine months, well past a court-imposed discovery deadline. In its filing on Wednesday, the prosecution conceded that the notes should have been turned over earlier, but denied acting in bad faith.
“In a sprawling, fast-moving prosecution, the failure to produce the notes earlier was simply a mistake,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven E. Frank.
In the scorching 36-page filing, prosecutors admitted it was a “mistake” not to turn over evidence earlier. However, after than quick apology, the feds also unveiled new documentation that directly counters Loughlin and Giannulli’s persistence that they never knew the half a million they handed over to former call centre manager boss William “Rick” Singer and his phoney Key Worldwide Foundation were anything other than “legitimate donations” for university programs.
“The defendants have suffered no prejudice, and their suggestion that the notes somehow ‘exonerate’ them, or reveal that the evidence against them was fabricated, is demonstrably false.”
The defence has argued that Loughlin and Giannulli believed they were making a legitimate charitable contribution when they paid some $500,000 to have their two daughters admitted to USC. They also contend that Singer’s notes show that once he had agreed to secretly record his clients for the government, the agents pressured him not to talk about the payments as a donation.
“They continue to ask me to tell a fib and not restate what I told my clients as to where their money was going — to the program not the coach and that it was a donation and they want it to be a payment,” Singer wrote. “Essentially they are asking me to bend the truth.”
In the late 2018 call, the feds say “Loughlin asked: “So we just – so we just have to say we made a donation to your foundation and that’s it, end of story?’ Singer responded: ‘That is correct.”
“Singer later called Loughlin, telling her that if the IRS called her, ‘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,'” Wednesday’s detailed filing notes of recordings and recollections of conversations between the parties. “So nothing like that has been ever mentioned”
“In April 2018, Giannulli reprimanded a high school counsellor for suggesting to USC that his daughter was not, in fact, a coxswain,” the new filing discloses. “Giannulli assured the counsellor, falsely, that she was. In an email to Giannulli, the counsellor wrote that he had informed USC “that you had visited this morning and affirmed for me that [your younger daughter] is truly a coxswain.'”
But in the filing on Wednesday, the prosecution argued that when Singer wrote those words, he had still not fully accepted responsibility for his crimes. The prosecutors also argued that it did not really matter whether Singer and his clients referred to the payments as “donations” or not, because the balance of the evidence shows they knew they were engaged in a corrupt scheme to admit their children under false pretences.
“Just because neither Singer nor the defendants actually used the word ‘bribe’ to describe the purported donations doesn’t mean that they were legitimate,” Frank wrote. “They were bribes, regardless of what Singer and the defendants called them, because, as the defendants knew, the corrupt insiders were soliciting the money in exchange for recruiting unqualified students, in violation of their duty of honest services to their employer.”
“The defendants are charged with conspiring to engage in a single, sweeping scheme to gain admission for their children to college by, among other things, lying about their academic and athletic qualifications so that complicit coaches, induced by bribes styled as ‘donations’ to their programs, could purport to recruit them as elite athletes,” the filing by the feds explains
Having formally plead not guilty in mid-April after turning down a government deal, Loughlin and Giannulli are accused in the wealthy suspects' probe of paying “bribes totalling $500,000 in exchange for having their offspring designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” according to the 200-page indictment made public on March 12 last year that snared over 30 parents nationwide.
“The defendants’ brief, despite its comprehensive catalogue of alleged government misconduct, tries to sanitize their actions by ignoring any mention of the larger fraud scheme within which the alleged bribery occurred,” U.S. Attorney Lelling concludes in today’s comprehensive filing. “Their claims, and the evidence in this case, must be viewed in the context of the actual indictment, not the imaginary one they would prefer to fight.”
According to the prosecution, Giannulli and Loughlin knew their children were being admitted as crew recruits, even though they did not row crew, and took steps to help perpetuate the fraud.
The couple is scheduled to go on trial on Oct. 5.