Parents in "Varsity Blues" College Admissions Scam Found Guilty of All Charges
(Bloomberg) -- Two parents accused of cheating to get their children into elite U.S. universities were found guilty of all charges, in the first trial stemming from a national college admissions scandal that ensnared dozens of families.
Former Wynn Resorts Ltd. executive Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, was convicted Friday of two counts of conspiracy by a Boston jury after prosecutors alleged he paid $300,000 in bribes to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a purported basketball player.
Private equity investor John B. Wilson, 62, was convicted of conspiracy, bribery, fraud and filing a false tax return after prosecutors alleged he paid more than $1.2 million in bribes to get his son into USC and his twin daughters into Stanford and Harvard as star athletes.
After a three-week trial, the jury deliberated for about 11 hours before rendering the verdict. Abdelaziz and Wilson will be sentenced in mid-February. For both men, the most serious charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
The verdict is a victory for prosecutors who charged 57 parents, coaches and others for taking part in the alleged scheme, which involved doctoring entrance exam scores, faking athletic prowess and bribery to gain seats at universities. An FBI sting unveiled in March 2019 swept up several prominent figures, including “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman and former Pimco chief executive Douglas Hodge. The case unfolded as the nation debated questions of privilege and inequality.
Thirty-three of the parents have pleaded guilty, with prison sentences ranging from two weeks to 9 months.
Wilson and Abdelaziz and their families “enjoy privileges and opportunities that most of us can only imagine, yet they were willing to break the law,” Acting U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Nathaniel Mendell said at a news conference after the verdict.
The two “used fraud and bribery to get what they wanted,” Mendell said. “What they did was an affront to hardworking students and parents. But the verdict today proves that even these defendants, powerful and privileged people, are not above the law.”
Abdelaziz’s lawyer Brian Kelly vowed to appeal.
“This is obviously not the result Mr. Abdelaziz was hoping for but that’s why we have appellate courts and we will be filing an appeal after the sentencing,” Kelly said.
Michael Kendall, a lawyer for Wilson, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that both Abdelaziz and Wilson had worked with college counselor William “Rick” Singer, the admitted mastermind of the scheme. The U.S. said both paid Singer to guarantee a “bulletproof” way of getting their kids into elite colleges. Prosecutors called 14 witnesses and showed jurors scores of emails they said was proof both men knew and understood Singer’s plan.
Confronted by federal agents in September 2018, Singer agreed to cooperate and secretly record parents for the government. He pleaded guilty in 2019 and awaits sentencing. Coaches from Yale, Georgetown and the University of California at Los Angeles, as well as USC and Stanford, were also charged in the scheme. None of the students was charged, and prosecutors have called the schools victims of the fraud.
The government never called Singer, who proved a problematic cooperator. He kept some of the money parents paid him, tipped some off about the investigation and erased about 1,500 text messages from his mobile phone. He made notes saying federal agents wanted him to “bend the truth” when drawing the parents out and “retrieve answers that are not accurate.” Lawyers for both defendants assailed Singer as a con man who duped them into believing their funds were legitimate donations going to schools or sports facilities.
Prosecutors said that after Wilson first paid Singer $200,000 to get his son into USC as a phony water polo recruit in 2013, he returned in 2018, paying Singer $1 million for his twin daughters. Wilson also was charged with filing a false tax return claiming the first payment as both a business expense and a charitable donation.
A USC water polo coach testified that Wilson’s son came to the first day of practice and never returned. Prosecutors played a September 2018 wiretap in which Wilson asks Singer if he can get a “two-for-one special” for his daughters and laughs when Singer says “I’ll make them a sailor or something” because Wilson’s family lives on Cape Cod.
As for the basketball skills of Abdelaziz’s daughter, a former classmate testified that she wasn’t good enough to make her high school varsity team. Singer can be heard on an October 2018 wiretap claiming he wants to take advantage of the same faked profile he used for the young woman for “anybody who isn’t a real basketball player.” Abdelaziz chuckles and replies, “I love it.” His daughter never played at USC, saying she was injured, according to the U.S.
Four more parents are due to go on trial next year. One father was pardoned by former president Donald Trump.
The case is U.S. v. Colburn et al., 19-cr-10080, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).
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