Coaches, celebrities appear in LA courtroom after being charged in college cheating scandal
More than a dozen colleges coaches, high-powered executives and celebrities appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday after being charged in a wide-ranging cheating and bribery scheme designed to get their children into good colleges.
Actress Felicity Huffman, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, former UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo and former USC assistant women’s soccer coach Laura Janke were among the defendants taken into custody across Southern California.
By mid-afternoon, they were in front of a federal judge in downtown Los Angeles.
Also appearing in court Tuesday were Igor Dvorskiy, a Sherman Oaks resident who runs private schools in Los Angeles; I-Hin “Joey” Chen, a warehousing and shipping industry operator from Newport Beach; Robert Flaxman, a real estate developer living in Laguna Beach; and Michelle Janavs, a former food industry executive from Newport Coast, among a slew of others.
All waited on benches behind a glass wall in the holding area for defendants as Judge Alexander MacKinnon called them up, one by one, to determine whether any were a flight risk and the amount of bail they’d have to pay.
Giannulli appeared in court with a short gray beard, black hair and glasses. He was ordered released on $1 million bail. His wife, actress Lori Laughlin, also was charged in the scheme. Officials said Laughlin was traveling abroad; it wasn’t clear when she would be taken into custody.
For several hours Tuesday, the tiny courtroom was the scene of a parade of wealthy defendants. Details on the their wealth was laid out by U.S. prosecutors, who were trying to convince the judge that each was a flight risk.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Schleifer said each of the defendants had the resources to flee the country. He also said while all are based in the Los Angeles area, and have family here, every member of the group had already shown a willingness to break the law.
“Things have changed dramatically for all of these defendants in the last 12 hours,” Schleifer said.
He said this while asking that Dvorskiy, the Los Angeles school director who also worked as a College Board and ACT test administrator, be placed under $250,000 bail. Schlieffer said Dvorskiy, like all of the other defendants, should be considered flight risks due to their frequent international travels.
He also argued for high bail amounts for each — for some, he said, a $50,000 bail amount would be “a drop in the bucket.”
Dvorskiy’s attorney said his client, a former Ukranian citizen, hadn’t traveled to Central Europe in years, and that his entire life and everyone he knew were now based in Los Angeles. Judge MacKinnon agreed to release Dvorskiy on $150,000 bail and travel restrictions.
Attorneys for other defendants detailed their clients’ philanthropy and family ties to the area. An attorney for Flaxman, the Laguna Beach real estate developer, said his client had no criminal record. He said Flaxman had two children living in Orange County, and that he still had to run his business with 25 employees.
Flaxman, he said, gave money to charities for children with terminal illnesses, and sponsored an orphanage in Kenya.
The judge agreed to release Flaxman on $1 million bond and restrict his travel.
Throughout several hearings, Huffman, wearing a pony tail and glasses, sat quietly at the far right of the holding area next to a wall, at times putting her head down. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, in a blue-gray sweater, jeans and suede shoes, with shaggy hair and a mustache, sat in the audience next to the courtroom artist drawing them both. He flipped through court documents while waiting for his wife to be called.
Standing next to her attorney, Huffman nodded her head and said “yes” softly to each of the judge’s questions. While arguing Huffman was a flight risk, a federal prosecutor said the actress was the owner of more than $20 million worth of of real estate and had a $4 million trust. She was ordered released under $250,000 bail.
The prosecutor also asked that Huffman and Macy be ordered not to talk about the case with each other. While not a defendant, Macy was a witness to the scheme, and was mentioned in the charging documents filed by investigators Tuesday, the prosecutor said.
“He’s certainly a subject of the investigation,” the prosecutor said. But the judge said such an order would be unreasonable.
All were ordered to appear later in March in a Boston courtroom.
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