Swimming From Alcatraz: College Scandal Parent Says Son Was Star
(Bloomberg) -- The son of “Varsity Blues” defendant John B. Wilson was such a strong swimmer as a fourth-grader that he braved shark-infested waters in a charity swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco, his defense told a federal judge.
Wilson’s lawyers are trying to show that the private equity investor -- who is on trial for allegedly paying a $200,000 bribe to get his son into the University of Southern California as a purported water polo star -- had every reason to believe Johnny had what it takes to compete at the Division I level. At 9, the boy became the youngest person ever to make the grueling swim to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, they told U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton on Monday.
But the jury will never hear it, after Gorton ruled that the 2005 feat they described was “absolutely irrelevant” to Wilson’s defense. To counter the government’s claims that Johnny was admitted to USC only because of the alleged bribe, Wilson called two former teammates of his son’s water polo team to testify that he played. Wilson is also accused of later paying $1 million to get his twin daughters into Stanford and Harvard as fake athletes.
Lawyers for Wilson and former Wynn Resorts Ltd. executive Gamal Abdelaziz, the first of six parents to go on trial in the case after 33 pleaded guilty, rested their case on Monday. Abdelaziz is accused of paying $300,000 in bribes to get his daughter into USC as a basketball player. None of the students or colleges swept up in the case have been charged.
Wilson’s defense included just three witnesses who testified that Johnny was a legitimate athlete. Abdelaziz’s lawyers didn’t call anyone to the stand. Both assailed the credibility of key government cooperator William “Rick” Singer, suggesting through their questioning of government witnesses that the scheme’s admitted mastermind had misled their clients by telling them the funds they gave were donations rather than bribes.
Gorton sharply limited the evidence both defendants could show the jury. Last week he declined to order two former USC athletic officials and Singer’s ex-accountant to testify. All three had asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked outside the jury’s presence if the school ever admitted students as athletes after their parents donated money. As a result, both dads have had to assail the government’s case.
The jurors could begin their deliberations as soon as Thursday.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.