‘Varsity Blues’ Dad Haggled Over Harvard, Stanford, U.S. Says
(Bloomberg) -- Private equity investor John B. Wilson was so comfortable with a “dirty deal” that he asked for a “two-for-one discount” on getting his twin daughters into Harvard and Stanford as fake athletic recruits, a prosecutor said in closing arguments in the “Varsity Blues” case.
Wilson asked for the break in a secretly recorded September 2018 conversation with college counselor William “Rick” Singer, the scheme’s admitted mastermind, that Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank played again for jurors on Wednesday. On the recording, Wilson also laughs when Singer suggests he can market his daughter to elite universities as “a sailor or something” because the family has a house on Cape Cod.
Frank said the conversation shows Wilson knew that he was participating in a scheme to cheat his children’s way into college, contrary to his defense that his son was a real USC athletic recruit and that he thought he was making legitimate donations to the schools to which his children applied.
“This senior executive, this Harvard Business School graduate, he isn’t troubled by the fraud, he’s haggling over the price,” the prosecutor said, adding that Wilson was “caught red-handed scheming to get his two daughters into some of the finest universities in the country as recruited athletes in exchange for money.”
The closing arguments cap a nearly month-long trial in Boston federal court of Wilson and another parent, former Wynn Resorts Ltd. executive Gamal Abdelaziz. The two were the first to contest the government’s claims that their payments to Singer or that he facilitated were illegal bribes, arguing instead that they were merely participating in a college admissions process that has long been skewed in favor of wealthy donors.
‘Kids Not on Trial’
The jury is expected to begin deliberations in the case on Thursday.
Wilson allegedly paid more than $200,000 to get his son into USC as a water polo recruit and $1 million for his daughters. They never went to Harvard and Stanford though, as Singer began cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation soon after that recorded call. Abdelaziz is accused of paying Singer $300,000 to get his daughter into USC as a fake basketball player.
Frank reminded jurors of the testimony of several witnesses who testified about the athletic abilities of Wilson’s son and Abdelaziz’s daughter. A USC water polo coach said Wilson’s son Johnny only showed up once for practice and never returned. Meanwhile, a former classmate told jurors earlier in the trial that Abdelaziz’s daughter Sabrina hadn’t been good enough to play on their high school’s varsity basketball team.
Frank insisted on Wednesday that the goal wasn’t to make fun of the defendants’ children, none of whom was charged in the case.
“These kids are not on trial,” Frank said. “Their parents are because they wanted their kids to get into those schools, no matter what their academic qualifications were, no matter what their athletic qualifications were. Those parents were not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer. To get to ‘yes’ they crossed that line and in crossing that line, they broke the law.”
In their closings, defense lawyers for both parents cast blame for any fraud on Singer and noted the government’s failure to call him as witness. Abdelaziz’s lawyer, Brian Kelly, said prosecutors had been afraid Singer “would get torn apart” on cross-examination.
‘The Empty Chair’
“Don’t let Rick Singer, the empty chair, fool you,” Kelly said. “The evidence is not there.”
He said Singer lied to Abdelaziz that his money was going to USC as a donation to the school’s sports center while pocketing much of it himself. Kelly also said any faked elements of Sabrina Abdelaziz’s athletic profile were the work of Singer rather than her father.
Lawyer Michael Kendall made similar arguments on Wilson’s behalf. He said Wilson thought Singer’s activities were sanctioned by Harvard because the counselor claimed he’d had a private meeting with the university president and often used the word “donation” in discussing his daughter’s application.
Kendall said Singer, who had been introduced to Wilson by his bankers, claimed to have been a college advisor for Steve Jobs’s family and other top executives. The lawyer noted that the FBI was also misled by Singer, who deleted 1,500 text messages from his phone after he began cooperating.
“John is Singer’s victim not once but twice,” Kendall said. “The government claims that Singer fooled bankers, businessmen, universities, accountants, the IRS, the FBI, lawyers even prosecutors, but somehow, John figured it out before any of these other people did.”
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