BOSTON (CBSLA/AP) — An October trial date was set Thursday for actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli in the admissions bribery case in which they are accused of paying a half-million dollars to get their two daughters into USC as fake athletic recruits. It came as the couple’s lawyers accused prosecutors of withholding evidence and misconduct.
A Boston federal court judge set a date of Oct. 5 for the trial of 55-year-old Loughlin and her 56-year-old husband.
They are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to Newport Beach businessman Rick Singer to get their two daughters into USC as members of the crew team, even though neither had ever rowed crew.
The hearing came one day after the couple’s defense attorneys submitted legal filings based on new evidence they received from prosecutors this week which they argued bolsters the couple’s claim that they believed their payments were legitimate donations to USC, not bribes.
“This belated discovery…is devastating to the government’s case and demonstrates that the government has been improperly withholding core exculpatory information, employing a ‘win at all costs’ effort rather than following their obligation to do justice,” defense attorney Sean Berkowtiz wrote, according to CBS Boston.
Prosecutors turned over notes from Singer’s iPhone, defense attorneys said. Singer says in the notes that FBI agents yelled at him and told him to lie to get parents to say things in recorded phone calls that could be used against them.
The lawyers also say Singer’s notes indicate that FBI agents told him to lie by saying he told parents who participated in the so-called “side door” scheme that the 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.
Singer’s notes weren’t given to the defense until this week because the government believed they were privileged and didn’t review them further after discovering them in October 2018, prosecutors say.
“It gives the defense some ammunition to say that, in fact, Loughlin and others didn’t really agree that this was a bribe,” Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson told CBS2.
The lawyers urged the judge to delay the setting of the trial dates in light of the new evidence. However, the judge said the cases need to be resolved expeditiously and instructed defense attorneys to file any motions to dismiss the case by March 13.
Berkowtiz said in a court filing on Thursday that prosecutors’ explanation for not handing over the evidence sooner is “bogus.” He accused the government of “egregious prosecutorial misconduct.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge that it doesn’t matter whether Singer called the payments bribes or donations, because it was still an illegal quid pro quo.
“Just because it was called a donation doesn’t make it legitimate,” Rosen said.
Earlier this month, federal prosecutors released a copy of a phony resume for the couple’s daughter, Olivia Jade, which purports to list her fake achievements in the sport of rowing. In January, prosecutors released a trove of emails and call recording logs between Giannulli, Loughlin and Singer. The emails revealed how USC was trying to court one of the daughters — even as prosecutors said the couple was plotting to get her admitted as a fake rower.
Loughlin and Giannulli have pleaded not guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery
On March 12, 2019, the FBI charged 50 people — including 35 parents and nine coaches — in a massive bribery scheme in which wealthy families paid millions to Singer to help their children cheat on standardized tests and bribe test administrators and college coaches to help get their kids into top universities like UCLA, USC, Yale, Stanford and Georgetown.
So far 20 parents, including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman — who served a 14-day sentence in October — have pleaded guilty in the scandal and 15 of those have been sentenced. Another 15, including Loughlin and Giannulli, are fighting the charges.
Earlier this month, 61-year-old Douglas Hodge, a Laguna Beach man and former CEO of a large investment firm, was sentenced to 9 months in prison for paying $850,000 in bribes to get two of his children admitted to USC and another two into Georgetown as athletic recruits.