There’s a bombshell new twist in the college admission scandal that could blow up the case against Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli.
What’s the smoking gun that could clear their name?
In court documents obtained by “Extra,” the couple’s attorney, Sean M. Berkowitz, has filed a motion to delay their trial date, claiming to have evidence that college admissions scam ring leader Rick Singer was told to lie by the FBI.
The court papers included written notes by Singer on his iPhone about his meetings with the FBI about “recorded phone calls that they directed him to make to his clients in order to induce inculpatory statements to be used against those clients.”
Berkowitz stated in the documents, “Singer’s notes indicate that FBI agents yelled at him and instructed him to lie by saying that he told his clients who participated in the in the alleged ‘side door’ scheme that their payments were bribes, rather than legitimate donations that went to the schools. They further note the Government’s desire to ‘nail’ one of the defendants ‘at all costs.’”
According to the court documents, Singer allegedly wrote in his notes, “They continue to ask me to tell a fib and not restate what I told my clients as to where their money was going — to the program not the coach and that it was a donation and they want it to be a payment.”
In another note, Singer allegedly mentioned someone who appears to be a federal agent, “Essentially, they are asking me to bend the truth… Liz raised her voice to me like she did in the hotel room about agreeing with her that everyone bribed the schools. This time about asking each person to agree to a lie I was telling them.”
With the new information, Berkowitz is hoping to prove that Loughlin and Giannulli didn’t know that their donations were bribes, but thought they were “legitimate donations” to the school.
The filing stated, “The government clearly acknowledges that Giannulli and Loughlin’s alleged ‘bribe payments’ did not go to any USC official personally, but rather were given as donations to USC itself. There is no evidence the defendants somehow knew these payments to USC were personal bribes designed to compensate Heinel for betraying her employer.”
The couple’s attorney William Trach also argued that the notes were conveniently withheld from them by prosecutors.
Their legal team insisted in the papers, “The supplemental discovery produced today demonstrates that the government was simply not being truthful. Singer told agents working on the case the exact information we have been seeking in discovery, and those agents attempted to bully him into lying and saying something different. This belated discovery, which should have been produced no later than 30 days after indictment, is devastating to the government’s case.”
U.S. Assistant Attorney Eric Rosen argued, “Your honor has been referring to this as a bribery case because that’s what it is: You pay the money; you get in as a fake athlete. Calling something a donation does not make it legitimate and that certainly doesn’t make it a donation — regardless of what you call it."
In October, Loughlin and Giannulli were among nearly a dozen parents facing new bribery charges stemming from their alleged involvement the college cheating scandal.
A grand jury in the District of Massachusetts brought the new charges in the third superseding indictment, accusing the 11 parents of conspiring to commit federal program bribery by paying off employees of USC to facilitate their children’s admission.
Loughlin and Giannulli have pleaded not guilty to two charges: conspiracy to commit money laundering; and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud. They were hit with one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in a second superseding indictment when they didn't reach a plea deal.
According to court documents filed in March last year, Loughlin and Giannulli "agreed to pay 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."
For now, Lori and Giannulli’s trial has been scheduled to begin on October 5.
On Thursday in court, Judge Gorton said that the defense’s “prosecutorial misconduct” claims did not warrant delaying a trial start date, but did warrant a discussion. To that end, the judge directed the couple's defense lawyers to file a motion, giving them a deadline of March 14.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has a March 27 deadline to respond, and a status hearing will occur on July 28.