Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman face court for college admissions scam

by Kim Boateng Last updated on April 7th, 2019,

Boston, Massachusetts: Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were in the federal courthouse here Wednesday for their initial appearance before a judge on felony charges they bribed and cheated to get their daughters admitted to elite colleges.

The two “Hollywood defendants,” the most famous of a group of nearly three-dozen parents charged in a wide-ranging college admissions cheating scandal, were in court for separate first appearances before federal Magistrate Judge M. Page Kelley at an afternoon hearing expected to last only minutes.

Shortly after 11 a.m., Huffman was spotted arriving at the courthouse where a media scrum had gathered. Dressed in slacks and a double-breasted jacket, she was alone except for her lawyers. She said nothing.

Loughlin arrived just before 2 p.m., and it was a much bigger scene, with scores of fans, reporters and spectators, news drones and helicopters overhead, and many police officers in attendance. Dressed in a tan-peach pantsuit and surrounded by security, she was greeted by loud cheers and screams of “We love you, Lori!”

She got out of a large black van surrounded by her lawyers and bodyguards. Unlike Huffman, she smiled and waved at the fans, some of whom called out to “Aunt Becky” as she walked towards the courthouse door.

At least some detractors were on hand, too: One woman was heard shouting, “Lori, Lori, Lori, pay for my tuition, Lori!” Another pair of women, from Emerson College, held up signs reading, “Lori, pls pay my tuition after you get out of prison (of course).”

They will not enter pleas until they are formally arraigned, which won’t occur until they have been indicted by a federal grand jury.

Like other parents from around the country who were arrested and have already made their first appearances, Huffman, Loughlin and Giannulli are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

The trio were arrested March 12 and March 13, among a total of 50 people nationwide, and accused of bribing college coaches and insiders at college testing centers to help get their underqualified children into some of the most elite schools in the country.

They have been placed on leave or lost their jobs, had book contracts canceled and television shows scrapped. They must seek permission to leave the country, and for now, it seems, international vacations are out.

Even before the 33 parents charged in the sweeping college admissions fraud investigation have their cases heard in court, some are also facing a special kind of public shaming, having become symbols of entitlement and greed.

“There does seem to be a certain assumption that these people are guilty just based upon the accusation — and that’s not true, and that’s not fair,” said David Schumacher, a lawyer for two of the parents, Gregory and Amy Colburn.

“There’s been unrelenting coverage of these charges,” Mr. Schumacher said, “and that has upended the Colburns’ lives.”

On Wednesday, 13 of the parents will make their first appearances in court in Boston, where a judge will set the conditions of their bail.

Among those scheduled to appear are the actress Lori Loughlin and her husband, the designer Mossimo Giannulli. The couple are accused of conspiring with William Singer — the college consultant at the center of the alleged scheme, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges — to pay $500,000 in bribes to facilitate their daughters’ admission at the University of Southern California. The Hallmark Channel, where Ms. Loughlin has major roles on a show and a television movie series, has said that it will stop development of shows featuring her.

The actress Felicity Huffman, who prosecutors say paid Mr. Singer $15,000 to cheat on her daughter’s SAT, is also scheduled to appear. It is not clear yet how the charges have affected Ms. Huffman’s career. Netflix, which is behind two of her current projects — one that is completed, and another that is in postproduction — has not commented on the case. But, like Ms. Loughlin, Ms. Huffman has been derided on social media, and she has deleted her parenting blog, “What the Flicka.”

[Read more about William Singer, the founder of a college preparatory business, who’s at the center of the case.]

But it isn’t only the famous parents who have been affected.

Homayoun Zadeh, an associate professor of dentistry at U.S.C., who prosecutors say also conspired with Mr. Singer to pay a bribe to get his daughter admitted to the school, has seen his career derailed.

He has been placed on leave by the university, whose interim president described it as essentially a step toward termination. In a motion asking the judge to modify Mr. Zadeh’s conditions of release, so that he could speak at conferences in Malaysia, Taiwan, Canada and France, Mr. Zadeh’s lawyers said that he had also lost three book contracts. If he were not allowed to attend the conferences, they wrote, he would be out the cost of several international plane tickets as well as any honorariums for speaking. (Most of the parents have been barred from leaving the country.)

According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Zadeh and his wife struggled to come up with the $100,000 they had agreed to pay as part of the arrangement, with Mr. Zadeh’s wife saying at one point that they were refinancing their house to make the payments.

Prosecutors have accused Gregory Colburn, a radiation oncologist in Palo Alto, Calif., and his wife, Amy, of conspiring with Mr. Singer to cheat on their son’s SAT exam. One of their lawyers, Patric Hooper, said that the Colburns were innocent, but that Dr. Colburn’s career had already been severely damaged because of a chain of consequences that result when a doctor is charged with a crime.

Already, he said, a state licensing board had begun an investigation of Dr. Colburn. Dr. Colburn had to notify Medicare and Medicaid that he was under investigation — and they could suspend him if they chose to, Mr. Hooper said, which would make it very difficult to practice. He has also had to notify the hospitals where he is on the medical staff.

“His reputation is destroyed before he’s even given an opportunity to defend himself,” Mr. Hooper said. He said that Dr. Colburn had taken a leave of absence from his practice while he fights the charges.

Other parents have been put on leave by their employers, or lost their jobs entirely.

Gordon Caplan, the co-chairman of the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, was placed on leave by the firm after he was accused of conspiring to cheat on his daughter’s ACT exam. He is also expected to appear in court on Wednesday.

William McGlashan, a major Silicon Valley investor who is charged with conspiring to cheat on his son’s ACT exam and also to bribe an official at U.S.C., either resigned from or was pushed out of his investment firm, TPG.

Mr. McGlashan has also had to cancel a planned spring break trip to Mexico with his wife and children. When Mr. McGlashan appeared in court last week, his lawyer argued that Mr. McGlashan did not represent a flight risk and should be allowed to make the trip with his family, which he said had been planned months before the charges were unveiled. Absent a flight risk, he said, denying Mr. McGlashan the vacation was merely punitive.

The prosecution disagreed — and noted that Mr. McGlashan had two vacation homes he could travel to instead, one in Big Sky, Mont., worth $12 million, and another in Truckee, Calif. The judge ultimately did not allow Mr. McGlashan to go on the vacation to Mexico.

One of the parents charged, Peter Jan Sartorio, of Menlo Park, Calif., has said in a filing that he intends to plead guilty. He is accused of paying Mr. Singer $15,000 to facilitate cheating on his daughter’s ACT exam.

Parents, of course, are not the only ones who have faced consequences. Yale rescinded the admission of one student. U.S.C. has said it will reject applicants tied to the case and has informed some current students that they can’t register for classes until the school determines their degree of responsibility. Mr. McGlashan’s lawyers noted in a memorandum filed with the court that his son, a senior in high school, had withdrawn his college applications.

While some parents have indicated that they will fight the charges, others are expected to plead guilty in the coming days. Two parents scheduled to appear on Wednesday, Jane Buckingham and Devin Sloane, filed motions seeking to reschedule their appearances. Both said that they were in discussions with the government to resolve the charges. Ms. Buckingham is accused of paying Mr. Singer $50,000 to have someone else take the ACT exam for her son. Mr. Sloane is accused of conspiring to bribe to have his son admitted to U.S.C. as a water polo recruit, even though he did not play water polo competitively.

Their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

Image: TV star Felicity Huffman charged in college bribery scam (left) and Full House star Lori Loughlin

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Kim Boateng

Kim Boateng

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