College counselor clashed with Lori Loughlin’s husband over daughter’s qualifications, records show
Two years ago, a college counselor at Marymount High School, an elite all-girls school on Los Angeles’ Westside, got a call in his office: J. Mossimo Giannulli, the fashion designer and husband of actress Lori Loughlin, was at the front desk and wanted to see him.
The counselor, Philip Petrone, had told USC he doubted that Giannulli’s daughter rowed competitively, as her college application stated, given her busy schedule as a video blogger. Moreover, he shared his concern that her family was working with William “Rick” Singer, an independent counselor Petrone suspected was misleading colleges.
On his way downstairs, he thought the visit from Giannulli had something to do with this. He thought right.
Petrone described what happened next in a detailed memo, which was filed in court this week by federal prosecutors who have charged Giannulli, Loughlin and a dozen others in a fraud, bribery and money laundering conspiracy.
They include Hollywood actresses, former CEOs, a famed parenting book writer, a fashion icon, a Newport Beach college counselor and university athletic officials.
Attorneys for the couple and their co-defendants accused those prosecutors of committing “extraordinary misconduct,” alleging they browbeat Singer, who cooperated in hopes of receiving a more lenient sentence, into manufacturing evidence he knew not to be true. They asked a judge to dismiss the indictment or, at a minimum, to throw out the thousands of recorded calls Singer made while cooperating.
Stephen Frank, a supervisor for the prosecutors accused of misconduct, responded on Wednesday. Unable to refute the evidence of their own bad acts, Frank wrote in court papers, the charged parents have fabricated imaginary ones committed by the government. Their argument — that Singer, at the government’s urging, twisted his clients’ intentions into something criminal — ignores the reams of evidence gathered prior to his cooperation, he said.
In support of this argument, Frank filed in court 386 pages of phone transcripts, text messages, emails, financial records and other documents obtained through wiretaps, search warrants and grand jury subpoenas. The records bring into sharper focus a number of incidents that have previously been mentioned or alluded to in the case, including the heated exchange in April 2018 between Giannulli and Petrone. Giannulli’s attorneys didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Leading Giannulli to his office, Petrone tried making small talk. He asked Giannulli if he’d walked or drove to the Bel-Air campus. “What does it matter?” Giannulli said, according to the counselor’s memo. When Petrone said he was only making conversation, he recalled Giannulli replying, “Let’s not.”
In his office, Giannulli demanded to know what Petrone had told USC about his daughters, the counselor wrote, “and why I was trying to ruin or get in the way of their opportunities.” As the counselor explained he had no knowledge of her rowing career, Giannulli “interrupted and bluntly stated” the girl was a coxswain, Petrone wrote. A key member of a crew team, the coxswain sits in the boat’s stern, steering and leading the rowers.
Prosecutors allege Giannulli and Loughlin conspired with Singer to concoct a story about their daughter rowing for a fictitious “L.A. Marina Club Team,” and had her pose for a picture on a rowing machine to round out a bogus recruiting profile submitted to USC. They filed the picture, the girl’s face obscured, in court on Wednesday.
Her admission was guaranteed with a $200,000 payment to Singer’s foundation and $50,000 to a USC account overseen by Donna Heinel, a former top administrator in the school’s athletic department, according to indictments lodged against her parents and Heinel.
Heinel has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit racketeering, fraud and bribery. The parents have pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit fraud, bribery and money laundering; their attorneys have argued they believed their payments were destined for legitimate university purposes and genuine charity work performed by Singer’s nonprofit.
Petrone told Giannulli he had warned USC about Singer and the athletic bona fides he suspected Singer of fabricating “to leverage positive admissions decisions” for his clients. Giannulli then launched “into an agitated stream of consciousness,” the counselor recalled; he was “astounded” Petrone had jeopardized his daughter’s college dreams, and asked if he “had any idea who [his daughter] was and what she had going for her.”
“I told him I was well aware of her YouTube channel and video blogs regarding style, make-up and fashion,” Petrone wrote. He told Giannulli to review the letter of recommendation he’d written for his daughter, which described her “as a guru in her field with a bright future.”
Giannulli told Petrone he still “didn’t get it,” according to his memo; as his daughters’ counselor, Petrone was “supposed to help them.”
Petrone, according to his memo, told Giannulli it was his job to guard the integrity of the college admissions process, that his professional reputation, the school’s reputation and that of “every past or future graduate” depended on it.
Giannulli asked Petrone what he was going to do next. “I told him I was going to have to contact USC,” he wrote, “to let them know he had told me that [his daughter] was a coxswain.” Giannulli stood up, shook Petrone’s hand and walked out.
Later that day, Heinel left a voicemail on Singer’s phone. “I don’t want the — the parents getting angry and creating any type of disturbance at the school,” she said, according to a transcript of the message filed in court. Parents couldn’t wander onto high school campuses, “yelling at counselors,” she told Singer. “That’ll shut everything — that’ll shut everything down.”
Prompted by Petrone’s concerns, USC looked into Singer and several students for whose admission he’d advocated, including Giannulli and Loughlin’s daughter. The person USC tapped to investigate, according to emails filed in court, was Heinel.
She reported back the next day. The daughter rowed for a “competitive” club, Heinel wrote, and USC’s coach “thinks she has talent.”
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