Lori Loughlin and husband could face legal conflict with USC over admissions scandal
USC told lawyers for actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, J. Mossimo Giannulli, that it anticipates possible legal disputes with the couple over their alleged role in the college admissions scandal, according to a letter from the couple’s attorney filed in federal court.
The letter doesn’t indicate whether USC is considering suing Loughlin and Giannulli, or if the university expects to be sued. In the letter, the couple’s attorney dismissed anticipation of civil disputes as “completely speculative.”
The letter offers a glimpse of behind-the-scenes legal jockeying in a case that has roiled USC, jeopardized Loughlin’s acting career and sent attorneys scrambling to protect the reputations both of parents who have been charged and schools they allegedly defrauded.
USC did not provide a comment. BJ Trach, an attorney for Loughlin and Giannulli who wrote the letter, did not respond to a request for comment.
Georgetown, another university involved in the scandal, was recently sued by the son of a Los Angeles parent who pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy. The son, Adam Semprevivo, is suing to prevent Georgetown from nullifying his credits.
USC’s concerns were revealed in a motion filed by prosecutors, arguing that law firms representing multiple parties in the criminal case could pose conflicts of interest.
Loughlin and Giannulli’s legal team includes Trach, an attorney for the law firm Latham & Watkins. Latham & Watkins also represents USC in an unrelated dispute involving the Coliseum.
Trach told prosecutors in the May 6 letter that USC is worried the arrangement “may cause public embarrassment” and “adverse publicity” if it became known. Trach wrote that USC has no right to protest his firm’s involvement in the criminal proceedings “merely because it might be embarrassed by them.”
USC declined to waive its concerns regarding the potential conflict with Latham & Watkins and raised the issue with prosecutors, according to the motion filed Thursday.
“USC has suggested that Latham’s representation of Ms. Loughlin and Mr. Giannulli may conflict with USC’s interests in possible future civil litigation with these individuals,” Trach said.
Loughlin and Giannulli are charged with fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy for allegedly paying $500,000 to ensure their two daughters were admitted to USC as rowing recruits. Both have pleaded not guilty.
USC has played an outsize role in the college admissions scandal. Of the 33 parents named in an FBI affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston in March, more than half stand accused of conspiring to bribe their way into USC.
Other universities, including Georgetown, Stanford, the University of San Diego and Yale, were also ensnared in the criminal enterprise run by consultant William “Rick” Singer, but the misconduct alleged involving USC dwarfs all other schools.
The college cheating case comes at a time when the university — known for its rising academic achievement and fundraising acumen — is trying to move past the scandals and recently selected a new president.
Federal investigators are scrutinizing whether Pat Haden, the former USC athletic director, was involved in the college admissions bribery and cheating scheme.
In response to questions about his possible involvement with Singer, Haden issued a statement Wednesday through his son-in-law denying wrongdoing:
“Like many people, I was introduced to Mr. Singer several years ago by a friend. I was unaware of his illegal activities and had no ongoing relationship with him whatsoever.”
Donnie Dixon Haden said his father-in-law had not “been contacted by or spoken to federal authorities.”
In their motion filed Thursday, prosecutors described USC as a victim of the fraud perpetrated by Singer and his alleged co-conspirators. If any of the cases go to trial, prosecutors said they expect to call witnesses from USC to testify that the university was defrauded.
If any of the defendants accused of conning USC are convicted, they added, the school will be entitled to restitution and allowed to provide a victim-impact statement.
USC officials have said they were shocked by the allegations of corruption, and have since imposed new rules designed to better vet athletic recruits.
Though neither of Loughlin’s daughters were rowers, the parents saw being a coxswain as their ticket into the private college, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
They began discussing the plot with Singer in April 2016 after they met with the college counselor of their older daughter, Isabella, according to the affidavit.
“I’d like to maybe sit with you after your session with the girls as I have some concerns and want to fully understand the game plan and make sure we have a roadmap for success as it relates to [our daughter] and getting her into a school other than ASU!” Giannulli allegedly wrote to Singer.
Singer told the couple that Isabella’s academic qualifications were “at or just below the low end of USC’s admission [threshold],” according to the affidavit.
Authorities allege the couple agreed to take advantage of what Singer called his “side door” into the university by bribing USC senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel to designate their daughter as an athletic recruit on the crew team. Heinel is also charged in the scheme and was fired by USC. She has pleaded not guilty.
The alleged bribes were funneled through Singer’s charity, whose stated mission was to help “underprivileged students.” This allowed some of the parents to write off the bribes as donations on their taxes, authorities said.
After Loughlin and Giannulli’s older daughter’s admission was secured, they repeated the scam in 2017 with their younger daughter, Olivia Jade, authorities allege. Singer allegedly told the couple he would present their daughter as a crew coxswain for the L.A. Marina Club team and requested they send an “action picture.” The couple sent him a photo of Olivia Jade rowing on a machine, according to the affidavit.
Trach, the attorney representing Loughlin and Giannulli, told prosecutors that the couple’s daughters have retained lawyers — unaffiliated with Latham & Watkins — to represent them in disciplinary proceedings brought by USC.
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