Jan 18, 2020
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How U.S.C. Courted Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli for Donations

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Mr. Giannulli responded, “I’ve been to the school a few times and have some folks that keep me abreast of the latest and greatest!” Then he forwarded the chain to Ms. Loughlin with a note saying, “The nicest I’ve been at blowing off somebody.”

U.S.C. said in a statement: “What was being offered to the Giannullis was neither special nor unique. Tours, classroom visits and meetings are routinely offered. The primary purpose of a flag is to be able to track the outcome of the admission review process. It is not a substitute for otherwise being qualified for admission to USC.”

In a motion in December seeking to force the government to disclose more evidence in the case, lawyers for Ms. Loughlin and Mr. Giannulli wrote that the couple planned to prove their innocence at trial by showing that they believed the payments the government had characterized as bribes — $100,000 in donations to U.S.C.’s athletic department, and $400,000 in donations to another nonprofit organization — were legitimate donations.

“It is common knowledge that universities — as part of their legitimate admissions process — regularly solicit donations from the families of prospective students, and that such donations can have a material effect on admissions decisions,” the lawyers wrote.

The government, in its filing on Tuesday, contended that the emails between Mr. Giannulli and the development official showed that Mr. Giannulli and Ms. Loughlin “specifically rejected this ‘legitimate’ approach,” instead pursuing an illicit scheme whereby an athletic official, in exchange for bribes, agreed to pass the couple’s two daughters off as coxswains for the women’s crew team.

But it is not the first time the case has exposed an unseemly side of U.S.C.’s admissions process.

Documents previously filed in the case showed that the university’s athletic department kept spreadsheets of “special interest” applicants that it was pushing for, with notes like “250,000 signed pledge” and “50,000 ask.”

In one instance, the former senior associate athletic director, Donna Heinel, who is facing racketeering and other charges as part of the case and has pleaded not guilty, emailed the dean of admission, Timothy Brunold, advocating for a potential transfer student whose family had given millions of dollars to the athletic department.

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