Friday, October 30, 2020

Ex-USC soccer coach pleads guilty in bribery plot

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A former University of Southern California soccer coach pleaded guilty Tuesday to allegations that she created fake athletic profiles for the children of wealthy parents in the college admissions bribery scheme.

Laura Janke had initially pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit racketeering in March. She pleaded guilty Tuesday after reaching a plea deal with prosecutors.

Janke has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and could be called to testify against others. She has also agreed to pay a nearly $135,000 forfeiture judgment, which prosecutors said equals the amount she benefited from the scheme.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they’re seeking a sentence of 27 months to 33 months in prison, though the charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. The 36-year-old California resident will be sentenced Oct. 17.

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Janke spoke in court only to answer the judge’s yes or no questions and declined through her lawyer to comment after the hearing.

Authorities say the former assistant women’s soccer coach accepted bribes and helped make bogus athletic profiles to get applicants admitted to universities as recruits for sports they didn’t play.

Among them was one for the daughter of actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

Authorities say Janke created a profile portraying Olivia Jade Giannulli, the couple’s youngest daughter and a YouTube star, as a competitive rower even though she didn’t participate in the sport. The teenager was ultimately admitted to USC as a crew recruit.

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Janke is the fourth coach to plead guilty in the biggest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted in the United States, which authorities dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.”

Former Yale University women’s soccer coach Rudy Meredith, former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer and former University of Texas at Austin men’s tennis coach Michael Center have already pleaded guilty.

A total of 50 people have been charged in the scheme, including 33 parents, 10 coaches and college athletics officials, and seven others accused of orchestrating bribes or a separate scheme to cheat on college entrance exams.

Most of the coaches face charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, while most parents face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.

On Monday, actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to paying $15,000 to rig her daughter’s SAT score in the scheme. Loughlin and Giannulli have pleaded not guilty to paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters into USC.

In court Tuesday, prosecutors said Janke accepted bribes to help at least four students gain admission at USC while working as an assistant coach.

The bribes, totaling nearly $350,000, were sent to the accounts of private summer soccer camps run by Janke and former USC women’s soccer head coach Ali Khosroshahin, who is also a defendant in the case, prosecutors said.

When she left the university in 2014, Janke continued working on the scheme, helping create many of the fake athletic profiles cited in the case. Those profiles were used to gain students admission not just at USC, but also at Stanford and Yale.

In one instance, Janke created a bogus profile for the daughter of Toby MacFarlane, a former senior executive at a title insurance company, which described her as a “US Club Soccer All American.” MacFarlane’s daughter graduated from USC last year without ever playing at the school, authorities said.

Janke also created a fake athletic profile for MacFarlane’s son that described him as over 6 feet when he was really 5 feet, 5 inches tall, authorities said. His son didn’t play basketball at USC and withdrew from the school last year, they said.

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