Lori Loughlin And Several Other Accused Parents Plead Not Guilty In College Admissions Case

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Lawyers for Lori Loughlin and several other parents indicted in the college admissions scandal revealed a core part of their defense strategy in court Monday.

That strategy: They believed the money they paid to William “Rick” Singer, the alleged mastermind of the scheme, was intended to be donations to colleges or to sports programs at colleges their children wanted to attend — not bribes, NBC News reported.

“If the money went to a school, it’s not a bribe,” attorney Martin Weinberg said in court Monday. He represents David Sidoo — a businessman from Vancouver, British Columbia, who also is an investor, philanthropist and former professional Canadian football player. Sidoo is accused of paying $200,000 for someone else to take college entrance exams for his two sons; the younger was admitted to UC Berkeley.

“Many of the clients would contend that if payments were made to a charity or sports organization, that it is not a bribe,” Weinberg added.

Sidoo, former “Full House” actress Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are among 33 wealthy parents who were charged in March with participating in a vast scheme orchestrated by Singer, a college admissions consultant. The parents allegedly use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top universities.

Thirteen of those parents, including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman, have struck cooperation deals with prosecutors and already pleaded guilty in the hope of getting more lenient prison sentences.

But Loughlin, Giannulli, Sidoo and the rest of the parents, including several from the Bay Area, have decided to fight the charges, which likely means they will go to trial, their lawyers told NBC News.

The attorneys were in court for a status conference, which allowed them and prosecutors to discuss procedural issues in front of a judge, NBC added.

Loughlin and Giannulli are among the most high-profile of the 50 people charged in the scandal. They allegedly paid Singer $500,000 to get their daughters, Isabella and Olivia Jade, into the University of Southern California by having them falsely designated as recruits for the school’s crew team.

Loughlin, 54, and Giannulli, 55, are charged with fraud and money laundering, with each count carrying a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, or 40 years total.

It has previously been reported that Loughlin and Giannulli’s defense strategy would involve the couple claiming that they didn’t know the $500,000 they paid to Singer would be used to bribe officials at USC.

Instead, the couple would claim that they thought they were paying for general college admissions consulting services offered by Singer — services that they understood had helped hundreds of other students get into top universities, TMZ reported.

“They really didn’t know the legalities of what was going on,” a source told People. “They’re not lawyers and they’re not experts. They were parents who simply wanted to make sure that their daughters got into a good school.”

Similarly, Loughlin and Giannulli could claim that they were victims of a con artist, according to an Entertainment Tonight report. They could say that Singer led them to believe they weren’t breaking any laws.

“(Lori and her husband) claim they were under the impression they might be breaking rules, but not laws,” a source told Entertainment Tonight. “They feel they were manipulated by those involved and are planning that as part of their defense.”

In the indictment filed by prosecutors, Loughlin, Giannulli and other parents are accused of making payments that were funneled through a nonprofit foundation run by Singer. Those payments ultimately went to coaches and others allegedly involved in the cheating scheme. Sometimes the payments were made to accounts that were part of a university, but prosecutors allege that those accounts were controlled exclusively by the coach involved in the scheme.

In court Monday, Aaron Katz, an attorney for Atherton resident Elizabeth Henriquez, said: “It’s a question of whether Singer told the parents that the money was going to athletic programs rather than the pockets of the coaches. If other parents were told that, then it is part of our argument that the parents did not know that it was a bribe.”

Henriquez and her husband, Manuel, the founder and CEO of a publicly traded specialty finance company based in Palo Alto, are accused of participating in the college entrance exam cheating scheme on four separate occasions on behalf of their two daughters.

Through Singer, the Henriquezes allegedly paid $400,000 in May 2016 to bribe Georgetown University head tennis coach Gordie Ernst to accept their older daughter as a supposed recruit, the indictment said.

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The Henriquezes also allegedly paid Singer $25,000 to arrange to have a proctor help their oldest daughter take her SAT exam in 2015, the result of which she scored 320 points higher than the best score she had legitimately earned, according to the indictment.

The couple participated in a similar scam the next year for their younger daughter, flying her to a “test site” in Houston for her ACT exam, according to the indictment.

At Monday’s hearing, prosecutors pushed back at the defendants’ arguments, NBC News reported.

“It doesn’t matter if the money went to the coach’s program or the coach directly,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Rosen told Judge M. Paige Kelly. “A bribe is simply a quid pro quo, it doesn’t matter where the money went.”

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