(BOSTON) — Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband walked into Boston federal court holding hands and put up a “united front” on Tuesday as they told a judge they are waiving their right to separate legal counsel in their fight against federal charges stemming from the massive “Varsity Blues” college entrance cheating scam that snared them and 49 other wealthy parents.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, declined to comment before entering the courthouse through a back door. They stayed mum as they departed from the courthouse with their attorneys amidst a crush of news crews.
“My clients do have a united front,” defense attorney William Trach of the law firm Latham & Watkins told a federal judge presiding over the hearing.
In court papers filed earlier in Boston federal court, Trach wrote that “Giannulli and Loughlin are innocent of the charges brought against them and are eager to clear their names.” He slammed the government’s case as “baseless accusations,” according to the document.
The couple was ordered to attend the hearing after federal prosecutors raised the specter that their lawyers from Latham & Watkins have a conflict of interest because they once represented one of the victims in the case, the University of Southern California, in an unrelated real estate dispute.
But both Loughlin, 55, and Giannulli, 56, had already submitted declarations to the court stating they understand the potential conflict of interest and the risks posed in having joint legal representation.
Federal prosecutors asked for the hearing so the couple could tell a judge in person that they clearly comprehend their predicament thus eliminating the possibility of citing the potential conflict if they are convicted and decide to appeal.
“On March 15, 2019, Moss and I jointly executed an engagement letter with Latham that formalized our understanding of our relationship with Latham and consented to the risks of joint representation,” Loughlin said in her declaration.
In his declaration, Giannulli said, “Latham has represented me in a variety of matters for 21 years, and they are counsel I know and trust.”
In court papers filed in June, attorneys from Latham & Watkins said no conflict existed, but explained that both Loughlin and Giannulli had retained separate lawyers to independently question witnesses from USC and address other issues that will likely come up involving the university so their lead attorneys can “avoid any potential conflict of interest.”
Giannulli has hired George Vien and Mark Beck, both former assistant U.S. attorneys, to represent him in issues dealing with USC, while Loughlin has retained former U.S. Attorney David Scheper.
Magistrate judge Mary Page Kelley, who oversaw Tuesday’s hearing, cautioned the couple about potential consequences of sharing lawyers, telling them “you need to have the undivided loyalty of counsel.”
Despite the warning, Loughlin and Gianulli said they preferred to stick with Latham & Watkins as their joint counsel and the judge agreed to allow them to do so.
If convicted, Loughlin and Gianulli could each face up to 20 years in prison. They have both pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Court documents unsealed on March 13 say Loughlin — best known for her role as Aunt Becky on the ABC sitcom “Full House” — and Giannulli “agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew — thereby facilitating their admission to USC.”
Federal agents obtained emails from Loughlin and a recorded conversation in which Loughlin and Giannulli implicated themselves in the scam to get their daughters Olivia Jade and Isabella into USC, according to the documents.
After the couple rejected plea deals, federal prosecutors filed a new superseding indictment in April alleging that Loughlin and Giannulli disguised their bribes to the ringleader of the scam, William “Rick” Singer, as donations to fund programs for “disadvantaged youth.”
Singer, 58, who also owned a college counseling company called Edge College & Career Network, accepted bribes totaling $25 million from parents between 2011 and 2018 “to guarantee their children’s admission to elite schools,” federal prosecutors said.
Singer has already pleaded guilty in a Boston federal court to charges of racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of justice and is expected to be sentenced next month.
Many of the parents indicted in the scam to get their children into elite schools across the country — including Stanford, Princeton and Georgetown — have already agreed to plea deals with the government, including Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Huffman.
Huffman, 56, allegedly gave $15,000 to Singer “to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on behalf of their oldest daughter,” court documents allege.
In May, Huffman appeared before a judge in Boston federal court and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. In exchange for her plea, federal prosecutors consented to recommend a sentence of four months imprisonment, a year of supervised release and a $20,000 fine.
She is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 13.
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