(Bloomberg) -- Former Pimco chief Douglas Hodge may get a rare chance at re-sentencing as a judge weighs his bid to set aside part of his guilty plea in the college admissions scandal because of alleged misconduct by prosecutors.
A federal appeals court in Boston this month agreed to put Hodge’s challenge to his case on hold while he asked U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton to let him withdraw his plea to money-laundering conspiracy and be sentenced only for fraud conspiracy. Gorton on Tuesday agreed to consider the request, citing “extraordinary circumstances.”
Hodge got the stiffest sentence for a parent in the sprawling case -- nine months in prison and a $750,000 fine. He admitted to paying $850,000 in bribes to get four of his children into the University of Southern California and Georgetown University as purported soccer and tennis recruits.
But just two and a half weeks after he was sentenced, prosecutors disclosed for the first time that William “Rick” Singer, the mastermind of the admissions scam, had made notes on his phone in 2018 that Hodge says are exculpatory. In the notes, Singer, who pleaded guilty and has cooperated with the government, said he felt pressured by investigators to lie to parents on secretly recorded calls to fabricate evidence against them.
Hodge’s lawyer Brien O’Connor argues the notes could have changed his client’s guilty plea if prosecutors hadn’t sat on them for almost a year. He’s asking Gorton to review the government’s conduct, including whether prosecutors suppressed evidence that could have proved Hodge’s innocence, and to reduce the sentence.
Read More: Hodge Gets Nine Months in Admissions Racket
The 14 parents fighting the charges, including actor Lori Loughlin and private equity executive Bill McGlashan, also targeted the Singer notes in asking that charges against them be dropped. Gorton denied those requests.
This is different, said Brad Bailey, a former federal prosecutor who is now in private practice in Boston and isn’t involved in the case. He points out that Hodge isn’t proclaiming innocence but asking for another shot at sentencing.
That “may gain a little bit of reasonable traction here,” Bailey said. The money-laundering charge drove up the sentence, given the sums Hodge paid, he said. If it’s thrown out, Gorton could impose a lesser term, according to Bailey.
“I’ve said from the start that I believe a legitimate defense in this case is, wait a second, people give donations and contributions to colleges all the time in the context of admission, so what’s the difference here?” Bailey said, especially “when you have potential notes that suggest that could have been blurred.”
The U.S. says that Singer has retracted his claim about lying and that the phone calls show the parents knew they were engaging in fraud or bribery.
Read More: Ex-Pimco Chief Is Ready for Prison -- But Wants New Hearing
More than 50 parents, test administrators, athletic coaches and others have been charged in the case, the biggest college admissions scam the U.S. has ever prosecuted. The parents paid Singer to fix their children’s entrance exam scores, funnel bribes to crooked coaches to get the kids on recruiting lists, or both, according to prosecutors.
Of the 36 parents charged, 22 have pleaded guilty. None of the students or schools, from USC to Yale, were charged.
Hodge last month won a delay in reporting to prison, from May 4 until June 30, to give him time to collect more information on his case and to avoid the risk of infection with the coronavirus while incarcerated.
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- The Upside of Pleading Guilty in the Admissions Scandal
- Ex-Pimco CEO’s ‘Guilty’ Starts Frenzied Day in Case
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