BOSTON (CN) — Not persuaded that the evidence shows outrageous government misconduct, a federal judge declined Friday to dismiss the indictment of parents including “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin in the college admissions case.
The ruling is critical of what U.S. District Judge Nathanial Gorton calls the government’s irresponsible delay in producing some of the evidence it collected. Gorton did not deem the lapse prejudicial, however, because he found the 16-month delay was not willful, and because its production this past February still gave the parents ample time to prepare for trial.
Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Gianullo, were indicted last year along with dozens of other prominent families across the country as part of an FBI sting operation launched into California life coach Rick Singer.
With a network of officials from the college admissions, testing and athletics on his payroll, Singer solicited bribes from the wealthy parents of teens seeking admission to elite universities.
Singer, who cooperated with the government as part of a plea deal, used some of his connections to manipulate how the children of his clients performed on college entrance exams. With others, he had teens designated as athletic recruits to reduce scrutiny of their academic credentials by college admissions boards.
Many of these officials and parents pleaded guilty, but Loughlin and Giannulli are part of a contingent of the “Operation Varsity Blues” case heading to trial in October. In a March motion to dismiss, they argued that the government’s own evidence shows that they thought their arrangement with Singer was legal.
Though they claim the government had Singer lie to them about their payments being legitimate school donations, the government said its evidence shows criminal intent on the part of the parents.
This was enough for Gorton to advance the case to trial. “The court is satisfied that the government has not lied to or misled the court,” he wrote.
The 11-page ruling emphasizes that “ruses designed to elicit incriminating information from willing participants during the course of an investigation” are perfectly acceptable in a sting operation.
“To the extent the defendants are dissatisfied with Singer’s purported denials of any wrongdoing in connection with his rehearsed telephone calls, they will have ample opportunity to cross examine him if and when he testifies at trial,” Gorton added.
Attorneys for Loughlin and Giannulli did not respond to emails seeking comment. The couple are represented by solo practitioner Mark Beck as well as attorneys at Latham & Watkins; Donnelly Conroy; and Scheper Kim.
Loughlin rose to fame in the 1990s as Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House.” Before her recent legal troubles caused the Hallmark Channel to sever ties, the actress was experiencing something of a second act as the star of made-for-TV romantic comedies.
Authorities say she and Giannulli paid $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California as recruits to the crew team — a scheme they dressed up further by sending Singer photos of the teens posing on rowing machines to create fake athletic profiles.
Singer, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme, used a sham charity to funnel the so-called donations to coaches who were in on the scheme.
Loughlin and Giannulli are scheduled to stand trial in October with six other prominent parents. Another set of defendants will go to trial in January 2021.
One of nearly two dozen parents who pleaded guilty, “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman admitted that she paid $15,000 to have a proctor correct her daughter’s SAT answers. She was sentenced to two weeks in prison.