Friday, October 30, 2020

Lori Loughlin accuses prosecutors of hiding evidence in college bribery scandal

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Fighting charges they lied and paid $500,000 in bribes to secure entry for their two daughters into the University of Southern California, actress Lori Loughlin and her husband filed court papers claiming federal prosecutors are concealing evidence that can clear their names in the nationwide “Operation Varsity Blues” college scam.

Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, asked a federal judge in Boston for “urgently needed” help in forcing the government to fork over evidence they say disproves charges they bribed a USC administrator to get their daughters, Isabella and Olivia Jade Giannulli, into the school.

“The Government appears to be concealing exculpatory evidence that helps show that both Defendants believed all of the payments they made would go to USC itself — for legitimate, university-approved purposes — or to other legitimate charitable causes. The Government’s failure to disclose this information is unacceptable, and this Court should put a stop to it,” lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli wrote in documents filed in Boston federal court.

“If, for example, USC knew of Singer’s operation and accepted donations to the university from Singer’s clients as legitimate, then not only was there no bribery at USC, but also no fraud conspiracy at all.”

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Federal prosecutors have yet to respond.

Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, were among more than 35 parents indicted in March in the largest college cheating scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors say that between 2011 and 2018 parents paid bribes of up to $25 million to ringleader William “Rick” Singer, who schemed with his cohorts of coaches, school administrators and college entrance exam proctors to rig the system in order to get the children of wealthy clients into elite colleges that also included Stanford, Yale, Princeton, and Georgetown.

Loughlin — best known for her role as Aunt Becky on the ABC sitcom “Full House” — and Giannulli allegedly paid bribes to Singer in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team, despite never having participated in crew in high school, according to federal prosecutors.

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Giannulli and Loughlin have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The couple was initially charged conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Prosecutors have since added money laundering and federal programs bribery charges against them. If convicted, they each face maximum prison terms of 20 years.

Many of the other parents ensnared in the scam, including Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman, have pleaded guilty.

In October, Huffman served 11 days of an initial 14-day prison sentence.

The “Desperate Housewives” star was also fined $30,000, ordered to complete 250 hours of community service and serve one year of probation. She admitted paying Singer $15,000 to arrange for someone to correct and improve her daughter’s SAT exam.

Singer pleaded guilty in a Boston federal court in March to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice. He has yet to be sentenced.

Donna Heinel, the former senior associate athletic director at USC, has pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy and her attorney says she is looking forward to restoring her reputation in the college athletic community.

“At trial, Giannulli and Loughlin will help establish their innocence by showing that they understood both sets of payments to be legitimate donations and did not understand or intend that either set of payments would be used to directly or indirectly bribe Heinel,” according to the court documents.

Lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli claim in court papers that prosecutors are concealing interview notes taken by federal investigators that detail “Singer’s representations to his clients regarding payments to the University of Southern California, as well as all information about USC’s knowledge of Singer’s operation.”

“More fundamentally, the Government is applying a flawed disclosure standard that systematically deprives Giannulli and Loughlin of information necessary to prepare their case and ensure a fair trial,” the defense attorneys wrote in the court filings.

The defense lawyers added, “The Government’s failures directly threaten Giannulli and Loughlin’s constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process of law.”

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