LOS ANGELES >> A judge declined today to dismiss the fraud, bribery and money laundering charges against Lori Loughlin and her co-defendants, ruling that federal agents and prosecutors did not pressure their chief cooperator, William “Rick” Singer, to mislead his clients on recorded phone calls and draw out flawed evidence of criminal intent.
Attorneys for Loughlin and 13 other parents charged in the college admissions scandal had asked U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton in March to throw out the indictment against them, pointing to a note Singer wrote shortly after he began cooperating in September 2018. With investigators recording the line, Singer called dozens of current and former clients and discussed the various schemes they are charged with exploiting to slip their children into such elite universities as Georgetown, Yale, the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles.
In one note, Singer wrote that the agents were insisting he “bend the truth” and get his clients to acknowledge the money they paid him was destined for the pockets of corrupt school employees — not legitimate donations to university coffers, as he told them previously.
Defense attorneys seized on the notes, arguing they showed Singer was “browbeat” into obtaining evidence he knew to be inaccurate. Moreover, they argued, federal prosecutors in Boston had violated their obligation to disclose evidence favorable to the accused. Prosecutors turned over the notes 16 months after they learned of them, and after more than half of the parents charged in the case had pleaded guilty.
William Trach, one of Loughlin’s attorneys, said Singer’s contemporaneous statement that he had been directed to lie, coupled with the overdue disclosure of the notes themselves, amounted to “extraordinary misconduct” meriting the rare step of dismissal.
Gorton disagreed. Questions of whether Singer’s clients believed their payments were bribes or donations, or whether Singer described his scheme one way as a conspirator and another as a cooperator, are “squarely for the jury,” he wrote.
Singer’s instructions to explicitly describe the payments not as donations but bribes were an attempt “to get Singer to corroborate, not fabricate, evidence,” Gorton said. The government had already obtained evidence prior to Singer’s cooperation — through wiretaps, search warrants and other cooperators — that his clients had committed crimes. The recorded calls were intended to “offer those parents an opportunity either to confirm or deny their participation in the scheme,” Gorton wrote.
Loughlin’s attorneys didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Last month, after Gorton requested a thorough explanation of the notes, Singer told investigators he had pushed back on using the word “bribe” because “that is not how he talks and he hadn’t said it before,” according to an FBI agent’s report that summarized the interview. Before he was apprehended and before his lawyer explained the meaning of a quid pro quo, Singer “understood that what he was doing was wrong,” the agent wrote, “but he didn’t think it was a crime.”
Gorton declined to throw out the recorded calls, as the defense had requested, or to hold a hearing into the matter. While he criticized the government as “irresponsible and misguided” for disclosing the notes so belatedly, Gorton attributed that not to bad faith but to an “imprudent underestimation of the context, relevance and potential exculpatory nature of the notes.”
Still, Gorton noted the missives were handed over eight months before the first scheduled trial date, giving the defense plenty of time to prepare. Loughlin, her husband, J. Mossimo Giannulli, and five more parents are scheduled to begin trial Oct. 5.