College admissions scandal: 15 parents could be grouped into 3 separate trials, judge says

Prosecutors revealed emails that allegedly show actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, turned down a "legitimate" offer from USC to flag their daughter's application.
Image: Lori Loughlin leaves federal court after a hearing on charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston
Lori Loughlin leaves federal court after a hearing on charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme in Boston on Aug. 27, 2019.Josh Reynolds / Reuters file

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By Ezra Kaplan and David K. Li

BOSTON — Fifteen parents, who are still fighting charges that they illegally paid a fixer to get their children into elite universities, could be split into three separate trials, a judge said Friday.

Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley for the District of Massachusetts compared the case to a recent prosecution of MS-13 gang members where the large group was split into smaller groups and trials were held one after the other for months.

When defense attorneys pressed Kelly on how their clients would be grouped, the judge said: “I assume he would include husbands and wives in the same trial. Three groupings could be a good option."

A final status hearing has been set for June 15, when the defendants will for the first time face District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton for the District of Massachusetts, who has previously made it clear that he expects to get the trials done before the end of 2020.

Gorton will be the one who will make the decision of how to split up the groups and to set the trial date(s).

Among the parents still fighting the charges are actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

They have pleaded not guilty to fraud, bribery and money laundering conspiracy charges for allegedly paying $500,000 to fixer Rick Singer and a University of Southern California athletic department official to get their two daughters, Isabella Rose and Olivia Jade, special admission as elite crew recruits even though they've never played that sport.

In court filings from earlier this week, prosecutors revealed emails, that the government believes, show that Loughlin and Giannulli turned down a "legitimate" offer from USC to flag their daughter's application.

The family were donors to USC and a fundraising officer offered in 2016 to flag Isabella's application and arrange for "a 1:1 opportunity for her, customized tour of campus for the family, and/or classroom visit.”

Giannulli responded: “Thanks so much, I think we are squared away.”

The fashion designer then forwarded that email exchange to Loughlin, adding: “The nicest I’ve been at blowing off somebody.”

The government believes that'll show that Giannulli and Loughlin rejected normal school donation methods to curry favor with USC, knowing they had Singer's backdoor operation ready to roll.

Loughlin is one of the biggest names in the massive college admissions scandal, dubbed "Operation Varsity Blues" by Boston-based federal prosecutors in March 2019.

Actress Felicity Huffman pleaded guilty to charges that she paid Singer's operation to proctor and correct her daughter's college board test, which resulted in the score jumping 400 points above her PSAT performance to 1420 out of a possible 1600.

Huffman served 11 days of a 14-day sentence and was released in late October.

Ezra Kaplan reported from Boston and David K. Li from New York