LOS ANGELES — A new prosecution filing in the college admissions cheating case targets defence claims by actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California in the guise of crew team members, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.
Hundreds of pages of emails, transcripts of recorded calls and financial and academic records were filed Tuesday in response to claims that prosecutors withheld evidence favourable to the couple and the couple’s contention that they believed the money would go toward legitimate donations to USC.
Loughlin and Giannulli are among dozens of wealthy parents who were charged with participating in schemes organized by college admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer to bribe coaches and university insiders or cheat on entrance exams. The cases are being prosecuted in federal court in Boston.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric S. Rosen wrote that the couple "specifically rejected this ‘legitimate’ approach," and pointed to emails exchanged between Giannulli and an official in USC’s development office, the Times reported.
The official, whose name was redacted in the documents, offered to "flag" the 2016 application by the fashion designer’s older daughter and asked "if I can be at all helpful in setting up a 1:1 opportunity for her, customized tour of campus for the family, and/or classroom visit."
Giannulli told the development official: "Thanks so much, I think we are squared away." He forwarded the exchange to his wife and added, "The nicest I’ve been at blowing off somebody."
Prosecutors allege that Giannulli had already been conspiring with Singer to pass the daughter off as an elite coxswain for the crew team.
An email from Singer to Giannulli had asked for "a picture with her on an ERG (rowing machine) in workout clothes like a real athlete." Six days before the USC official’s email, Singer had said in an email to Giannulli: "Got it all. Profile is being made as a coxswain and USC is awaiting my packet with the transcript, test scores and profile."
The prosecution alleges the USC athletic department’s third-ranking administrator, Donna Heinel, soon after presented the couple’s daughter as a recruited coxswain to a USC admissions committee that approved her "based on falsified athletic credentials."
Prosecutors say the couple then wrote a $50,000 check to a USC account controlled by Heinel and wired $200,000 to Singer.
The couple is accused of repeating the process a year later to get their younger daughter into USC.
The newly filed documents show that in March 2018 several high schools contacted USC because they were puzzled that certain students were being admitted as recruited athletes, the Times said.
Marymount High School in Los Angeles, which was attended by Loughlin’s two daughters, "doesn’t think either of the students are serious crew participants," a USC employee wrote in an email.
Heinel was asked to investigate and wrote the next day that Loughlin’s younger daughter rowed for a "competitive" club and USC’s coach "thinks she has talent."
Heinel was arrested a year later and charged with scheming to sneak unqualified students into the university. She has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering, fraud and bribery.
Rosen, the assistant U.S. attorney, wrote that no USC officials interviewed by prosecutors knew payments from Singer’s clients "were a quid pro quo" for admission, apart from those who have been charged with crimes.
Loughlin and Giannulli have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, money laundering and bribery.
Singer has pleaded guilty and agreed to work with investigators in hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence.