As Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli prepare their defense to charges that they bribed their daughters’ way into the University of Southern California, the couple have received information that they apparently hope will boost their case that they are innocent.
It is that USC never received the notorious photos the couple allegedly took of their daughters, Olivia Jade, 20, and Isabella Giannulli, 21, posing on rowing machines, TMZ reported.
College admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, who pleaded guilty to masterminding the alleged bribery scheme, requested the photos in 2016 and 2017, the indictment alleges. He said he needed them to create athletic profiles of the sisters that would falsely present them as crew team recruits in their application packets.
“Prosecutors have made a huge deal of the fact Olivia Jade and Isabella were photographed on a rowing machine, saying it’s proof Lori and husband Mossimo Giannulli defrauded the university,” TMZ said.
But from the TMZ report, it’s not clear exactly what the significance is that USC didn’t receive the photos.
Perhaps it means that the falsified photos were never used to help persuade USC officials to admit the sisters, somehow lessening Loughlin and Giannulli’s culpability.
But the prosecutors’ complaint shows that they have other evidence. It includes recorded phone conversations and emails between Singer and the former “Full House” actress, and between Singer and Giannulli, a fashion designer. In the phone calls and emails, they discussed the need for the photos and that the payments — totaling $500,000 — would be used to bribe USC officials.
Lawyers for Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, who each face up to 45 years in prison, filed documents in December in which they said the couple would establish innocence by showing that they understood the payments to be “legitimate donations” — not bribes.
“They did not understand or intend that (the) payments would be used to directly or indirectly bribe” Donna Heinel, the former USC senior associate athletic director, the attorneys said.
Loughlin and Giannulli made several payments. Two payments of $200,000 each were wired to the Key Worldwide Foundation, an education nonprofit established by Singer.
Prosecutors argue that the foundation was a sham. They say Singer used it to launder bribes sent by Loughlin, Giannulli and other wealthy parents who sought his help in getting their children admitted to top U.S. colleges.
The complaint against Loughlin and Giannulli also said the couple made two payments of $50,000 each to Heinel after they received word that each of their daughters had been admitted to USC as crew team recruits. Loughlin and Giannulli’s attorneys have argued that the couple thought that these payments to Heinel would be used to support programs at USC.
Former federal prosector Neama Rahmani has said this charity-not-bribes argument is “weak at best.”
For one thing, Rahmani said in a previous interview, if the parents were properly making donations to a university or to a university sports program, they would have worked with the schools directly, not made donations through a third party such as Singer.
“When people are making contributions legitimately to a university, they don’t go through a shady nonprofit,” said Rahmani, who tried drug and fraud cases while in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego from 2010 to 2012 and who’s in private practice with West Coast Trial Lawyers in Los Angeles.
Unfortunately for Loughlin, the judge presiding over the couple’s case in federal court in Boston signaled he may not be open to this charity-not-bribes defense in another parent’s case.
In November, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton sentenced San Diego insurance executive Toby MacFarlane to six months in prison.
MacFarlane pleaded guilty to working with Singer to get his daughter and son admitted to USC on fake athletic profiles. MacFarlane entered the guilty plea even though his attorney argued that he wasn’t aware that the $450,000 he paid to Singer and an alleged accomplice would be used to pay off two USC coaches and an administrator.
Like Loughlin and Giannulli, MacFarlane’s arrangement with Singer involved making payments to Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation. MacFarlane said Singer described it to him as “a legitimate” charity, according to the memorandum for his sentencing.
MacFarlane’s attorney also said in court that his client believed Singer “would use his influence, friendships, relationships, whatever he was going to do, to get his kids into USC,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
But Gorton didn’t buy the idea that MacFarlane didn’t know there was something illegitimate about payments he made to Singer’s nonprofit, the Times reported.
“So he thought he was making a gift to Mr. Singer, who would miraculously get his kids into USC?” Gorton asked. “Whether you call it a bribe or not, that sounds like a bribe to me.”
Loughlin and Giannulli reportedly turned down offers to take plea deals, mostly because Giannulli was concerned that guilty pleas would hurt their reputations and careers, according to Us Weekly. But Loughlin also continues to insist on her innocence, according to Us Weekly.
A source close to Loughlin told People last week that she still hopes that mounting a strong defense will help her persuade the judge and jury to see things her way. But the sources also said she’s enough of “a planner” to begin preparing for “every possible outcome.”
That includes hiring a prison consultant to teach her about life behind bars in case she ends up getting convicted and sentenced to serve time, People said.
“She has someone who is advising her what to do in case she loses her case and goes to prison,” a source told People. “The adviser is there to help her learn the ropes. That’s not to be construed that she thinks she’s going to lose her case. Lori is a planner, and she is doing what she needs to do for all contingencies.”
Prison consultants typically are former federal inmates who are hired by well-heeled defendants to help them navigate the U.S. court system and to prepare to serve time at a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility.
Another consultant, Larry Levine, told The Mercury News in August that a woman he believes to be Loughlin called him in August for help.
Levine, founder of Wall Street Prison Consultants, said he didn’t consider taking Loughlin as a client because he thought she would be too “high maintenance.”
Levine, who often shares his expertise on prison life with news organizations and on cable news, said the woman didn’t identify herself, though he eventually confronted her, saying “Listen Aunt Becky, I know it’s you.”
Levine said the woman calling for advice about “the college scandal” was “clueless” and did not appear to understand why she was being charged with a federal crime. Levine also said the woman didn’t seem to realize the consequences of not taking a plea deal.
“She lacked understanding as to why some cases are federal and why some are state,” said Levine, who served 10 years in different federal prisons around the country after being convicted on racketeering, securities fraud and narcotics trafficking charges.
“She didn’t get it,” Levine said. “I explained to her how all this works. It appears that she’s getting advice from several people, and she’s looking for someone to tell her what she wants to hear.”
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