BOSTON (AP) — TV actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, will go on trial in October on charges that they bribed their daughters’ way into the University of Southern California, a federal judge said Thursday.
The judge set the trial date a day after defense attorneys claimed that new evidence that would exonerate the couple of charges that they participated in a college admissions bribery scheme.
Prosecutors provided the defense with iPhone notes written by the admitted ringleader of the scheme that bolster the couple’s claim that they believed their payments were legitimate donations, not bribes, their lawyers wrote in a court document filed late Wednesday.
Loughlin, who played Aunt Becky on the sitcom “Full House,” and Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 to get their daughters into USC as recruits to the rowing team, though neither of them was a rower.
Authorities say Loughlin and Giannulli helped create fake athletic profiles for the teens by sending the consultant at the center of the scheme, Rick Singer, photos of their teens posing on rowing machines.
The money was funneled through a sham charity operated by Singer, who has pleaded guilty to orchestrating the scheme, authorities say.
Loughlin and Giannulli are scheduled to stand trial with six other prominent parents accused of rigging the college admissions system. Other parents still fighting the charges will stand trial in January 2021, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said. The case is based in Boston.
Loughlin and Giannulli’s lawyers had urged the judge to delay the setting of the trial dates in light of the new evidence they received from prosecutors. But the judge said the cases need to be resolved expeditiously.
Lawyers for Loughlin and Giannulli said Wednesday that prosecutors recently provided them with notes from Singer’s phone in which Singer says FBI agents yelled at him and told him to lie in recorded phone calls with parents to get them to say things that could be used against them.
The lawyers say Singer said he was told to lie by saying that he told parents who participated in the so-called “side door” scheme that they payments were bribes, not legitimate donations.
“Loud and abrasive call with agents. They continue to ask me to tell a fib and not restate what I told my clients as to where the money was going — to the program and not the coach and that it was a donation and they want it to be a payment,” Singer wrote, according to the filing.
“Essentially they are asking me to bend the truth,” Singer added.
Berkowitz called the information not only “exculpatory, but exonerating for the defendants the government has charged with bribery.”
The couple are among 15 prominent parents still fighting accusations that they rigged the college admissions system by paying people to pretend their kids were star athletes for sports they didn’t play or to cheat on their children’s entrance exams.
Nearly two dozen parents have pleaded guilty, including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced to two weeks in prison for paying $15,000 to have a proctor correct her daughter’s SAT answers.
Federal prosecutors have said the first trial for the parents should begin in October, and that Loughlin and Giannulli should be tried in the first group.
But attorneys for the parents said the substantial amount of evidence, outstanding pretrial motions and general complexity of the case made a trial this fall impossible and that there should be no trial before next February.
By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER Associated Press