BOSTON — Attorneys for parents including actress Lori Loughlin moved Wednesday to have federal charges dismissed in the nation's college admissions scandal, arguing Massachusetts is an improper venue for the case, among other objections.
In one of several motions to dismiss filed by 14 parents still fighting charges, defense attorneys said the alleged admissions scheme involved individuals who don't live in Massachusetts conspiring with a man, Rick Singer, who lived outside of Massachusetts to obtain admissions into universities outside of Massachusetts.
As a result, they said the crimes have "no connection to Massachusetts" to establish venue.
"Moving Defendants’ constitutional rights to have the charges against them tried where their crimes were allegedly committed cannot be brushed aside to accommodate the government’s venue preferences," the motion reads.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts did not respond to a request for comment.
The motion seeks the dismissal of fraud conspiracy, bribery and money laundering charges that parents face in the sprawling nationwide admissions case. A separate motion filed Wednesday argues that fraud charges be dismissed because testing companies – ACT and The College Board – were not defrauded under federal law when some parents paid to have someone cheat on their children's tests.
Another motion to dismiss targets the recruitment plot that other parents engaged in, arguing that while perhaps "unethical and improper," misrepresenting their children as fake athletic recruits did not violate mail or wire fraud.
"Accepting the Government’s theory would massively expand criminal fraud liability beyond anything authorized by Congress or the Supreme Court," that motion reads.
Last week, the same group of parents asked a judge to throw out charges because of "extraordinary misconduct" by prosecutors. They alleged prosecutors "knowingly withheld" notes taken by Singer in 2018 they contend prove their clients' innocence.
The "Varsity Blues" college bribery and admissions scandal has played out before six federal judges and one magistrate in the U.S. District Court for the Massachusetts in Boston since indictments were first made in March 2019. The majority of parents, including Loughlin, are residents of California.
At the time, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said prosecutors in Massachusetts took the lead prosecuting the case because of several Boston connections: phone calls and meetings involving Singer took place in the city, two of the defendants live there and fake test scores were submitted to Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern University.
But defense attorneys for parents pointed to the 6th Amendment, which guarantees the right to trial "'by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed."
"Here, the government has alleged crimes that did not begin in, continue in, or end in Massachusetts," they said in the filing. "Instead, the government has attempted to create venue in this District by lumping defendants together in a single conspiracy, alleging cherry-picked acts that are unrelated to the conspiracy’s objective, and fabricating ties to this District through the unilateral conduct of a government cooperator."
Wealthy parents are accused of making significant five- and six-figure payments to Singer, a college consultant from Newport Beach, California, in exchange for either having someone fix test scores on their children's college entrance exams or tagging them as fake athletic recruits to get them admitted into prestigious universities.
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, have pleaded not guilty to charges for paying Singer $500,000 in bribes to have their two daughters falsely designated as crew recruits to get them admitted to the University of Southern California.
To justify trying each of the parent defendants together, prosecutors have argued that they paid into the same larger conspiracy led by Singer.
Defense attorneys for parents, including Loughlin, have said they thought they were making "legitimate donations" to college programs, not bribing college officials, to get their children admitted into elite colleges. They've said the notes taken by Singer –originally withheld because prosecutors said it was privileged information – prove their innocence.
In the motion to dismiss that targets the testing scheme, defense attorneys argued test scores are not a traditional form of property and standardized tests are not property of the testing companies. When test administrators were bribed, according to the attorneys, it did not mean their "honest services" to the company was stolen because the proctors did not have a fiduciary duty to the companies.
"The Government’s overzealous effort to expand the sweep of federal criminal law flies in the face of decades of precedent regarding the scope of the mail and wire fraud statutes and the strict construction they must be given," the motion reads.
Sixteen parents have pleaded guilty and been sentenced for their crimes, while 14 are digging in for trial in the admissions scandal. One trial is set to begin in October and the other in January. Loughlin is part of the first trial, which involves only parents accused of bribing USC.
Thirty-two out of 53 overall defendants charged in the college admissions scandal have pleaded guilty since the scandal broke nearly one year ago.
On Tuesday, Elizabeth Henriquez, a mother from Atherton, California, was sentenced to seven months in prison for more than $500,000 in bribes for her two daughters. The hearing took place via video conference because of social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lori Loughlin attorneys argue college admissions case location