Since the mastermind of the college admissions scandal, William Singer, pleaded guilty last March to racketeering and other charges, he has been mostly offstage, paddleboarding and enjoying the California sun while many of his former clients head off to prison.
But this week, Mr. Singer, who admitted to organizing a scheme to cheat on tests and bribe college coaches to get students into elite schools, was again the center of attention. Lawyers for the actress Lori Loughlin and other parents said that notes Mr. Singer had taken while cooperating with federal investigators showed that they pushed him to lie to incriminate his clients.
They said that Mr. Singer’s own words suggested that parents did not knowingly engage in a conspiracy to bribe coaches, as prosecutors have argued, and they accused prosecutors of sitting on the evidence for months in violation of their legal obligations.
“Loud and abrasive call with agents,” Mr. Singer wrote on Oct. 2, 2018, in a note with several typos and misspellings. “They continue to ask me to tell a fib and not restate what I told my clients as to where there money was going – to the program not the coach and that it was a donation and they want it to be a payment.”
He added that the agents were essentially “asking me to bend the truth.”
In a hearing on Thursday, a federal judge called the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct “very serious” but did not rule on the issue, directing the parties to submit further motions.
Ms. Loughlin’s lawyers had written in a court filing on Wednesday that the evidence in Mr. Singer’s notes was “devastating to the Government’s case and demonstrates that the Government has been improperly withholding core exculpatory information, employing a ‘win at all costs’ effort rather than following their obligation to do justice.”
An assistant United States attorney, Eric S. Rosen, told the judge that the delay in producing the notes was because the government had believed they were covered by attorney-client privilege.
The judge, Nathaniel M. Gorton, of the United States District Court of Massachusetts, also set a trial date of Oct. 5 for roughly half of the 15 parents who have pleaded not guilty, including Ms. Loughlin. The judge said the rest of the parents would be tried in January.
The significance of Mr. Singer’s notes boils down to a question that lawyers for some parents have suggested will be essential to their defense: Did the parents knowingly agree with Mr. Singer to bribe coaches and other athletic officials, or did Mr. Singer lead them to believe they were making donations to athletic programs that would result in their children getting an advantage in the admissions process? The lawyers have argued that if the parents believed they were making donations, that was not a crime.
In the notes, taken on his iPhone, Mr. Singer suggested this was a sticking point as he discussed with federal agents what he should say in recorded calls to parents, in which he was supposed to get them to confirm what they had done.
Apparently referring to one of the agents, he wrote: “Liz raised her voice to me like she did in the hotel room about agreeing with her that everyone Bribed the schools. This time about asking each person to agree to a lie I was telling them.”
Mr. Singer went on to discuss one parent, Gordon Caplan, who paid him $75,000 to have a proctor correct answers on his daughter’s ACT exam. Mr. Caplan, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a month in prison, was co-chairman of a major New York law firm before his arrest.
“They want to nail Gordon at all costs,” Mr. Singer wrote of the agents.
In the hearing on Thursday, one of Ms. Loughlin’s lawyers, William J. Trach, summarized in his own words what bothered Mr. Singer: “The government wants me to say that these are bribes — what I told the parents was that these were donations, not bribes. They want me to lie. They’re yelling at me.”
“The fact that somebody made a donation to U.S.C. with the goal of getting their child into U.S.C. is not a crime,” Mr. Trach added, referring to the University of Southern California. Ms. Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are accused of making payments to the U.S.C. athletic department and to a foundation set up by Mr. Singer to have their two daughters admitted as recruits to the women’s crew team, even though neither participated in crew.
Later on Thursday, lawyers for another parent who pleaded not guilty, Gamal Abdelaziz, filed a motion asking the court to require the government to turn over audio of the phone call between Mr. Singer and federal agents that Mr. Singer described as “loud and abrasive.” Additionally, lawyers for two parents who have pleaded guilty, Elizabeth and Manuel Henriquez, asked to postpone their sentencings, which are scheduled for next week, in light of the new evidence from Mr. Singer’s phone.
Mr. Rosen, the assistant U.S. attorney, disputed that the notes undermined the government’s case. Even if Mr. Singer described the payments as donations, he told the judge, the parents knew that their children were being falsely presented as recruited athletes in sports they didn’t play competitively or at all.
“U.S.C., or any school,” he said, “does not have a legitimate admission process for fake rowers, fake football players, fake pole-vaulters or fake anything.”