Actress Lori Loughlin faces hearing in US college cheating scandal

Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli lawyers disputes that its recent work for USC in an unrelated real estate dispute poses any conflict. (Reuters pic)

BOSTON: Actress Lori Loughlin is due in court on Tuesday for a hearing on whether the lawyers defending her against charges that she participated in a large college admissions scam have a conflict and must be disqualified.

Federal prosecutors in Boston have accused the “Full House” star and her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli of arranging to pay bribes to get her two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California (USC) as purported crew recruits.

They are among 51 people charged since March with participating in a vast scheme in which wealthy parents conspired to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure admission of their children to top universities.

Prosecutors claim they did so with the help of William “Rick” Singer, a California college admissions consultant who has pleaded guilty to facilitating cheating on college admissions tests and helping bribe university sports coaches to present clients’ children as fake athletic recruits.

Loughlin and Giannulli are both represented by the law firm Latham & Watkins, which also until recently represented USC on other matters.

Prosecutors contend the firm’s representation of the alleged victim is a conflict that warrants disqualification.

The law firm, one of the biggest in the United States, disputes that its recent work for USC in an unrelated real estate dispute poses any conflict and noted that the firm no longer represents the school.

In addition to that potential conflict, a federal magistrate judge is expected to question Loughlin and Giannulli on whether they understand the risks posed by being represented by the same lawyers as each other.

The judge has recently held a series hearings regarding potential conflicts created by law firms’ dual representations of parents charged in the case, cooperating witnesses or USC.

Loughlin and Giannulli pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors allege that Loughlin and Giannulli agreed with Singer to pay US$500,000 to have their two daughters named as recruits to USC’s crew team, even though they did not row competitively, to help them gain admission.

In all, 34 parents have been charged in the college admissions scandal. Of those, 15 have agreed to plead guilty, including “Desperate Housewives” TV star Felicity Huffman.

She is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept 13.