January 'Varsity Blues' Trial Kicked To April Due To COVID-19

By Dave Simpson
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Law360 (October 20, 2020, 10:34 PM EDT) -- A Massachusetts federal judge agreed on Monday to postpone a January trial of a group of parents ensnared in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal to April, citing the COVID-19 pandemic while warning the defendants that the trial will not continue to be delayed indefinitely.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton told the parents, who are accused of paying bribes to get their kids into elite universities, that they should continue to prepare for the criminal trial in whatever ways are possible while granting their motion for delay.

"The court will allow the motion because of the current logistical difficulties in conducting a multiple defendant, criminal jury trial while maintaining the necessary safeguards during the continuing pandemic," Judge Gorton said.

He ordered parents Marci Palatella, William McGlashan Jr., Elisabeth Kimmel, I-Hsin Chen, Gregory Colburn and Amy Colburn to complete discovery by taking video depositions, reviewing documents, preparing witnesses remotely, and, for parties and witnesses that must be physically present at trial, doing "whatever is necessary, including requisite quarantining."

In August, Judge Gorton delayed a trial for another cohort of parents until February, citing the pandemic.

Jury selection in that criminal case was scheduled to start on Sept. 29, with opening statements set for Oct. 5.

The parents in the case are accused of falsely passing their children off as athletic recruits to get them into elite universities by paying bribes to school officials through admitted scheme mastermind William "Rick" Singer.

On Monday, Judge Gorton said that the postponement for the January trial should not be "understood as warranting an indefinite postponement."

"This is a criminal case in which the initial indictments were returned in March, 2019 and, even in light of the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, two years is long enough to wait for trial," he said.

In August, actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion-designer husband Mossimo Giannulli were sentenced to two months and five months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the college admissions scandal after admitting to paying bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake rowing recruits.

Prosecutors secured an indictment of Loughlin and Giannulli for paying $500,000 in total, styled as donations, to Singer and USC athletics funds to facilitate their daughters being designated as athletic recruits to the university's rowing team. The scheme included taking photographs of their daughters on ergometers for fake athletic profiles submitted to the school.

The couple pled guilty in May after maintaining their innocence for more than a year. Both admitted to a count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, and Giannulli also pled guilty to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.

Giannulli got the heftier sentence because he worked more closely with Singer on the plan and personally confronted his daughter's guidance counselor to stop the scheme from being uncovered, prosecutors said.

The government is represented by Eric S. Rosen, Justin D. O'Connell, Kristen A. Kearney, Leslie A. Wright, Karin M. Bell and Stephen E. Frank of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Amy and Gregory Colburn are represented by David S. Schumacher, Jordan R.C. Kearney and Patric Hooper of Hooper Lundy & Bookman PC.

I-Hsin Chen is represented by Reuben Camper Cahn, Jennifer L. Keller and Chase A. Scolnick of Keller Anderle LLP.

Elisabeth Kimmel is represented by R. Robert Popeo, Mark E. Robinson, Eóin P. Beirne and Cory S. Flashner of Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo PC.

William McGlashan Jr. is represented by John C. Hueston and Marshall Camp of Hueston Hennigan LLP.

Marci Palatella is represented by Allen J. Ruby, Jack P. DiCanio and Michael K. Loucks of Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP.

The case is U.S. v. Colburn et al., case number 1:19-cr-10080, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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