BOSTON — Attorneys for 14 parents, including actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, asked a federal judge to throw out the government’s case against them in the nation’s college admissions scandal, arguing “extraordinary misconduct” by prosecutors warrants dismissal.
In a filing Wednesday supporting a motion to dismiss, lawyers again singled out notes Rick Singer, the mastermind of a nationwide admissions scheme, took on his iPhone following discussions with FBI investigators in October 2018 about recorded phone calls they directed him to make to parents.
The defense attorneys argued the notes prove their clients’ innocence – that parents thought they were making legitimate donations to college programs, not bribing college officials, to get their children admitted into elite colleges. But the lawyers said the government “knowingly withheld” the evidence, which was not turned over until last month.
“The Government’s extraordinary misconduct warrants extraordinary relief,” the motion to dimiss reads. “The facts known so far justify dismissal of the indictment. At a minimum, the Court should order suppression of the tainted recordings.”
The U.S. Attorneys Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Loughlin and Giannulli face multiple federal charges, including fraud, money laundering and bribery, for allegedly paying Singer $500,000 to have their two daughters designated as fake crew recruits to get them admitted into the University of Southern California.
At issue are notes Singer made after he was cooperating with federal investigators in 2018. In one note, Singer wrote that FBI officials got “loud and abrasive” and “continue to ask me to tell a fib” about what he told clients before they paid into his scheme. He said the FBI wanted him not to restate what he actually told his clients — that they were making a payment to an athletic program, not a college coach.
Parents’ attorneys said the notes, which they first raised in court Feb. 27, undermine “one of the government’s most valued pieces of evidence” – secretly recorded phone calls that the FBI had Singer make with his past clients to admit to their crimes.
“The notes state that agents browbeat Singer and instructed him to lie in order to elicit misleading evidence that was inconsistent with the actual facts that Singer had explained to agents,” the motion reads.
“It brings no joy to file a motion of this nature. But the extraordinary government misconduct presented in this case threatens grave harm to defendants and the integrity of this proceeding. That misconduct cannot be ignored.”
Parents’s attorneys said the notes should have been handed over by May 30, 2019. Prosecutors have acknowledged they learned about the existence of Singer’s notes during the FBI’s “Varsity Blues” college admissions investigation in October 2018. But at the time they believed it to be privileged information that was not subject to review.
Prosecutors said Singer’s attorneys finally agreed to waive privilege rights of the notes last month, prompting them to turn it over to the defense. Prosecutors said the government will release the remaining content from Singer’s iPhone shortly.
Defense attorneys called this excuse a “total red herring,” arguing the government had an obligation to relay the “substance” of these conversations.
“The government’s conduct is particularly troubling because defendants could not learn
this information on their own,” the motion reads. “Singer, as a cooperating witness, has been under government control and is thus unavailable to Defendants. And the Government’s serial misrepresentations about the completeness of its disclosures—to the Defendants, this Court, and in other related proceedings— further exacerbate its misconduct.”
Parents are accused of making significant payments to Singer, a college consultant from Newport Beach, California, in exchange for falsely tagging their children as fake athletic recruits to get them into prestigious universities or having someone fix their college entrance exam scores.
The 14 parents still fighting charges are set to go to trial in Boston federal court before U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in two separate groups beginning in October. Loughlin and Giannulli and other parents accused of bribing the University of Southern California are in the first group.
Thirty-two defendants, including 22 parents, out of 53 people charged in the admissions scandal have pleaded guilty. The most recent came March 13 when David Sidoo, a businessman from Vancouver, Canada reversed his plea and admitted to paying bribes totaling $200,000 to have someone secretly take the SAT exam for his sons to inflate their test scores.
Fifteen out of 17 defendants, including 14 parents, have received prison time ranging from two weeks to nine months.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.