Under pressure from a federal judge, the prosecutors in the Lori Loughlin case offered an explanation on Friday for notes from the key witness, in which he asserted that agents were pressuring him to lie.
Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli are scheduled to face a federal trial in Boston in October on charges that they bribed a USC coach to gain admission for their daughters.
But the case has taken a turn since February, when prosecutors belatedly turned over notes to the defense from William “Rick” Singer, the college admissions consultant at the heart of the case. In the notes, Singer wrote that federal agents were urging him to “bend the truth” in his recorded phone calls with clients, and that he had been told not to refer to the payments as “donations.”
Loughlin and Giannulli’s lawyers have said that they believed the payments were legitimate donations, and that Singer’s notes show that the government was entrapping them into criminal conduct. The government has pushed back, saying the agents did nothing wrong.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton directed the government to give a more complete response, saying the misconduct allegations were “serious and disturbing.”
In the filing on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank laid out a more comprehensive and forceful defense of the agents’ conduct.
“The government did not commit misconduct in this case,” Frank wrote. “It did not fabricate evidence. It did not entrap any defendant. And it did not suborn the commission of a crime.”
Agents on Wednesday reinterviewed Singer, who has since pleaded guilty in the case. In an FBI memo describing the interview, Singer explains the context for his frustration with the agents at the time he wrote the notes.
“At the time he never considered what he was doing was a bribe and he had several arguments with the agents over the word bribe,” the memo states. “He thought he was doing something wrong but legal, but didn’t know for sure until his attorney explained that it was illegal. Singer stated that he always knew he was doing a quid pro quo, and now he understands that is the same as bribery.”
In the interview, Singer also stated that the clients’ conversations he was referring to in the notes were not with Loughlin and Giannulli. Those conversations — which the defense is seeking to exclude as evidence at the trial — came several weeks later.
“Singer noted that the agents didn’t do anything wrong,” the memo states. “He explained that he just didn’t understand at the time.”
The government also produced a declaration from Elizabeth Keating, an IRS investigator on the case. In his notes, Singer had complained that “Liz” had “raised her voice to me like she did in the hotel room about agreeing with her that everyone Bribed the schools.”
In the declaration, Keating did not recall raising her voice, but said she was “more animated than usual” because Singer had refused to take responsibility for the scheme.
She also explained that she wanted Singer to be more explicit in his recorded calls about the payments being bribes, so that there would be no confusion about the parents’ intent. Singer resisted that, saying that was not the language he typically used.
Frank, the prosecutor, also noted that by the time the government approached Singer, Loughlin and Giannulli had already participated in the alleged bribery scheme. He argued that therefore the government was not suborning the commission of a new crime, but gathering corroborating evidence about one that had already occurred.
“Singer repeated back to the defendants a summary of the crime they had committed and asked them if they agreed they had done it,” Frank wrote. “The calls were the equivalent of a wired-up cooperator asking a drug dealer, to whom the cooperator has previously sold drugs: ‘Do you remember when I sold you those drugs?'”