Just under a year after the feds snagged dozens of well-heeled parents in the college admissions scandal, Lori Loughlin and her husband were given a start date to the trial that could see the couple behind bars for decades if found guilty.
Despite an 11th hour attempt by their lawyers to have any trial date postponed because of newly acquired evidence, the former Fuller House star and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli will directly face justice starting on October 5, a federal judge in Boston ruled today.
In what is the first of two trials for the indicted parents, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton told the assembled lawyers that the matter “will be completed well before Thanksgiving.” Jury selection is scheduled to begin on September 28.
Having repeatedly proclaimed their innocence in the sprawling nationwide scheme to get the children of the wealthy and well-connected fast tracked into top schools under false pretenses, Loughlin and Giannulli were not present this morning in Judge Gorton’s downtown B-town courtroom. The status conference hearing comes slightly over a month after the not guilty-pleading L.A.-based couple were charged in a fourth superseding indictment by the office of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts.
At this point, Loughlin and Giannulli are facing a maximum of 50 years each and millions of dollars in fines if found guilty.
However, with the same trial date today being set for other parents who also tried to get their kids into USC, this morning’s hearing revolved considerably around potentially explosive claims by the one-time Hallmark Channel staple and Giannulli’s Latham & Watkins attorneys that prosecutors suppressed evidence that could be “exonerating.” Yesterday, head defense lawyer Sean Berkowitz filed paperwork asserting that long sought notes finally turned over by the feds prove the couple believed that the $500,000 they handed over to ex-call center manager William Singer and his phony Key Worldwide Foundation were “legitimate donations” for university programs.
“This is precisely the kind of exculpatory – and indeed, exonerating – information defendants have been seeking,” said the defense’s February 26 filing in federal court in New England. Referring to the notes from now cooperating prosecuting witness Singer himself as “devastating to the government’s case,” the filing twists the knife in the feds’ side by adding that the newly available documents reveal “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.”
With the feds professing that the notes of supposed FBI strong arming of Singer were kept out of evidence because they were actually to his lawyers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen today dismissed the implications of the documents. “It was a quid pro quo,” he told Judge Gorton and the court, noting that Loughlin and Giannulli couldn’t have not known what the payment was for, especially being that their daughters were not the athletes they were claiming to be.
Judge Gorton on Thursday in court said that the defense’s claims of what is essentially “prosecutorial misconduct” weren’t enough to delay setting a trial start date for Loughlin and Giannulli, but did warrant further discussion. Gorton instructed the joint defense lawyers for the couple to file a motion by March 14 seeking to either toss or sanction the U.S. Attorney’s office. The feds have until March 27 to respond. A status hearing will be held on July 28.
Representatives for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and his team told Deadline that they had no comment at this time on the issue.
Having formally plead not guilty in mid-April after turning down a government deal, Loughlin and Giannulli are accused in the wealthy suspects probe of paying “bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC,” according to the 200-page indictment made public on March 12 last year.
Currently out on $1 million-dollar bail bond, the actor and her fashion designer spouse were hit with an additional money laundering charge last spring and a bribery charge in November.
Both of Loughlin and Giannulli’s daughters have since left USC in the glare of the scandal. No surprise, Loughlin was not included in the final season of Netflix’s Fuller House and quickly axed from Hallmark’s When Calls the Heart when the indictments started coming down last spring.
Today’s hearing in Boston comes six months after American Crime star and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in a federal prison for her role in the college admissions bribery case.
Once looking at 20 years incarceration for having “made a purported charitable contribution of $15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of her eldest daughter,” according to the lengthy March 6 indictment Huffman took a deal. Serving 11 days behind bars last fall in California, the Desperate Housewives actor was also was given a year’s probation, 250 hours of community service and told to pay a fine of $30,000.
Earlier this week, Hot Pockets heiress Michelle Janavs was handed a five-month sentence in the ongoing investigation.
That’s the harshest sentence so far to come out of Operation Varsity Blues.
Janavs paid out $100,000 to Singer to have fake and inflated test scores for two of her daughters. Also ordered to pay a $250,000 fine and serve two years’ probation in her sentencing on February 25, Janavs was found guilty of paying $200,000 to get one of her daughters into USC as a beach volleyball recruit, a game the offspring didn’t actually play.
Whether or not the timing of Tuesday’s sentence was intended as a warning to Loughlin and Giannulli, the couple have to be aware just how serious the feds are.
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