Varsity Blues parents who are fighting college cheating charges and ex-Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia have the coronavirus to thank for keeping them out of federal court until next year.
The high-profile trials in the college cheating case and alleged pay-to-play pot scandal have been pushed back into 2021. A surge of COVID-19 cases in the south and west are the primary reason why, the courts announced.
“The vast majority of the potential witnesses in this case reside in California, Texas and Georgia, states where there has been a significant surge in cases of COVID-19,” federal prosecutors state in a filing in the Varsity Blues case.
They add: “Witness preparation, therefore, will be exceedingly difficult and is likely to create safety concerns for individuals involved, some of whom are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 due to age.”
A second Varsity Blues trial already set to begin in January is still on track.
The feds have indicted a total of 33 mostly wealthy parents — with 28 already pleading guilty to bribing to get their kids admitted into prestigious colleges. That list includes Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli face an Aug. 21 sentencing in Boston.
Correia, charged in a $600,000 marijuana extortion scandal, has pleaded not guilty.
The former mayor of Fall River — who lost his re-election bid — faces 24 charges including extortion, fraud and bribery, after initially being charged in 2018 with stealing investor funds for his app company. Prosecutors alleged in a follow-up indictment that Correia extorted local marijuana vendors out of a combined $600,000 in exchange for coveted nonopposition letters to operate their shops in the city.
This week a federal judge said Correia’s trial won’t happen until the new year.
“I told counsel that I think this is a case that they should not anticipate to go to trial, at the earliest, January and maybe not that,” said U.S. federal court Judge Douglas Woodlock in a Zoom conference, The Herald News reported.
The delays due to the virus come as researchers race to develop a vaccine that could allow for a return to some type of new normal. Until then, Massachusetts remains on guard as COVID-19 cases spike elsewhere in the nation.
On Friday, Massachusetts health officials reported 21 more people have died from the coronavirus and there are 216 new cases, as hospitalization rates dip down and three out of six key trends stay in the green.
Yet, Arizona has the highest positive test rate of any other state according to a Johns Hopkins University virus tracker, sitting at just over 22%. Florida, at 18% is not far behind and South Carolina is also at nearly 18%.