Lori Loughlin, other parents in college admissions scandal face trial in 2020

USA Today 1 month ago

BOSTON — A federal judge Wednesday circled 2020 as the time frame for trials of parents, including actress Lori Loughlin, who are fighting charges in the nation's college admissions scandal.

Federal Magistrate Judge Page Kelley announced the court's preference at a status hearing for attorneys of the 19 parents who have pleaded not guilty in the blockbuster "Varsity Blues" admissions case.

But it is still unclear when these defendants will file a motion to dismiss their conspiracy charges, a move that is necessary before a more detailed schedule is set. 

Defense attorneys for parents said they are still poring over nearly two million pieces of evidence, representing three million pages, turned over by the federal government during the discovery process. The judge gave them until Jan. 17, when the next status hearing is scheduled, to review the evidence, which includes emails, phone records and other documents. Their motion to dismiss will be due 45 to 60 days later.

“We’ve only had four and a half months to go through three million pages,” said attorney Martin Weinberg, who is representing Robert Zangrillo, a Miami developer among the parents charged in the case. 

Kelley urged the attorneys to work together so they are not duplicating efforts. “I know it’s very voluminous, but if we’re going to go to trial shortly after that, you need to have reviewed it.” 

No defendants were present in court Tuesday. William Trach, Loughlin's attorney, did not speak at the hearing and declined to comment afterward to USA TODAY.

Parents are accused of making significant bribe payments to the scheme's mastermind, college consultant Rick Singer, to either tag their children as fake athletic recruits to get them into a college or have someone fix scores on their college entrance exams. The parents are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and money laundering. 

Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of paying $500,000 to Singer's nonprofit for their two daughters to be classified as crew recruits at the University of Southern California.

The parents' cases will eventually transfer to federal Judge Nathaniel Gorton, who Kelley said has a "strong preference" for a 2020 trial date. She said the case would likely be divided into multiple trials with certain defendants grouped together. 

Coaches accused in the scandal could go to trial separately before parents. At a hearing Tuesday before the same magistrate, attorneys for five college coaches, a University of Southern California administrator and a test proctor who have each pleaded not guilty to charges agreed to file their motion to dismiss racketeering charges by Oct. 15.

"We're ready to go," attorney Nina Marino, who represents Donna Heinel, former senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California, said of the two-week deadline.

But Weinberg said attorneys for parents need to finish reviewing all the evidence so they can sufficiently counter one of the government's central arguments – that parents were all co-conspirators in Singer's scheme. He said the government is falsely trying to treat the college admissions case like a classic drug conspiracy in which associates of a dealer are, like spokes of a wheel, connected. 

“We have an absolute lack of evidence of a rim," Weinberg said. "I think I can make that argument better if I can examine the evidence.”

In another area of contention, defense attorneys said they want the government to disclose whether Singer will be called as a witness during trial. Singer has pleaded guilty to four felonies, and has been cooperating with prosecutors. 

Brian Kelly, attorney for parent Gamal Abdelaziz, a Las Vegas casino operator accused in the case, said knowing whether Singer will be called to testify would help "expedite" their review of evidence because so much of it involves him. 

The government has agreed to disclose the names of expert witnesses 90 days before the trial. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told the judge that Singer is a fact witness in the case, not an expert witness.  

“We’re still evaluating which witness to call, and he may or may not be a witness," Rosen said. 

In all, 52 people — parents, coaches and other Singer associates — have been charged with crimes in the college admissions scandal. Twenty-four have pleaded guilty in deals with prosecutors, foregoing their right to trials.

Four of them, including actress Felicity Huffman, have been sentenced while others await their sentencing later this fall. Huffman was sentenced to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to have someone correct answers on her oldest daughter's SAT test. Two parents were sentenced to four months in prison for paying Singer $250,000 and $400,000, respectively, to take part in the college recruitment scheme. 

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.


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