A media circus is expected in federal court in Boston on Wednesday when the two most high-profile defendants in the college admissions scandal — Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin — appear in court.
The preliminary hearing at which they face charges against them for the first time will mark a key moment for the actresses.
They are among dozens of people swept up in the scandal. The scheme centered on William “Rick” Singer, the owner of a for-profit Newport Beach college admissions company, which wealthy parents are accused of paying to help their children cheat on college entrance exams and which allegedly falsified athletic records of students to enable them to secure admission to elite schools — including UCLA, USC, Stanford, Yale and Georgetown — according to court records.
Some of the parents charged have already come out swinging, poking holes in the government’s case and strongly denying they did anything illegal.
So far, Loughlin and Huffman have been silent. Prosecutors have been pressuring some of the defendants to cooperate or face more charges. The deadline for a grand jury to hand down additional charges is April 11, and legal experts say that is creating a time crunch.
“The clock is now ticking and if actors don’t make a deal, as sure as the sun rises they will be indicted by a federal grand jury,” said Manny Medrano, a former federal prosecutor.
What are they accused of doing?
Huffman is accused of disguising a $15,000 charitable payment in the bribery scheme, according to court records. Prosecutors alleged she met with a confidential witness who explained that he could control a SAT testing center and arrange for someone to proctor her daughter’s test and correct it.
The actress’ older daughter took the test in December 2017 and received a score of 1,420. That was a 400-point improvement from her first test. In October, the FBI recorded Huffman allegedly discussing participating in the same scheme for her younger daughter; however, she did not ultimately pursue it.
According to court records, Loughlin and her husband, J. Mossimo Giannulli, the creator of clothing brand Mossimo, “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team” even though they did not participate in crew.
Are their legal strategies similar?
Legal experts said Huffman’s exposure might be less than other parents given the relatively small amount of money involved.
“On the surface, that alleged amount should mean less exposure to prison,” Medrano said, “but at the end of the day, the government is making the same allegation that an unqualified student [is] replacing a qualified student.”
Still, prosecutors have said they have ample evidence against her and others. Not just the testimony of Singer, the admitted scheme mastermind, but recordings and documents.
What defenses are emerging?
The attorneys of some parents are fighting back.
One of the most strident is Bill McGlashan, the former managing partner of TPG Growth of San Francisco.
His attorneys have sought to rebuff federal prosecutors who allege he discussed a $200,000 bribe with a college athletic director to get his son into USC.
“Mr. McGlashan did not pay for the use of a so-called ‘side door’ to obtain admission for his son at USC or any other college,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing seeking to allow him to travel for business as well as on an international family vacation.
His attorneys, Jack W. Pirozzolo and John C. Hueston, argued that their client differed from all the other parents caught up in the scandal. McGlashan, who has pleaded not guilty, said he paid Singer $50,000 for legitimate college counseling services for his son.
His attorneys argue that his son was diagnosed with a learning disability in 2015 and needed more time to take the ACT exam.
Court records show that McGlashan’s son submitted a doctored ACT score to Northeastern University in Boston.
But his legal team says the boy withdrew his applications to college and hasn’t even graduated from high school.
“There is no allegation that Mr. McGlashan’s son ever attended a university based on any of the alleged conduct,” Pirozzolo said.
Federal prosecutors, however, tell a different story. They allege that McGlashan paid $50,000 in December 2017 to a charity controlled by Singer and that the money was given three days before his son took an ACT exam at a site managed by Singer in West Hollywood — hundreds of miles from their Northern California home. Authorities say the test was then “corrected” by one of Singer’s paid associates. McGlashan’s son, according to prosecutors, scored a 34 out of 36.
And McGlashan discussed repeating the scheme in July, officials say. He said he would get a doctor to make a diagnosis that would also get his younger children more time on the test and open the door to their using the West Hollywood testing center, according to prosecutors.