'Varsity Blues' Trial Brings Guilty Verdicts

Case against parents Gamal Abdelaziz, John Wilson was the first to go to trial
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 8, 2021 11:15 AM CDT
Updated Oct 8, 2021 2:45 PM CDT
A First in the 'Varsity Blues' Scandal: a Trial
In this April 3, 2019 file photo, investor John Wilson, left, arrives at federal court in Boston with his wife Leslie to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. The first trial stemming from Operation Varsity Blues.   (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Update: After deliberating for about 10 hours, jurors found two parents guilty Friday in the college admissions bribery scandal. Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson were convicted on fraud and bribery conspiracy charges, the AP reports, and Wilson was also convicted of other counts of bribery, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. Defense lawyers had argued that the men thought they were making legitimate donations to the universities. The trial was the first in the case, though 33 other parents have pleaded guilty. Our original story from last month follows:

The first trial in the "Operation Varsity Blues" college admissions bribery scandal will begin this week, with the potential to shed light on investigators' tactics and brighten the spotlight on a secretive school selection process many have long complained is rigged to favor the rich. Jury selection is beginning Wednesday in federal court in Boston in the case against two parents, former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples and Gap executive John Wilson. Though they were among dozens of prominent parents, athletic coaches, and others arrested across the country when the case exploded into the headlines over two years ago, theirs is the first to go trial. Three other parents are scheduled to go to trial in January. More from the AP:

  • Defendant I: Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, is accused of paying $300,000 to the sham charity run by the scheme's mastermind—admissions consultant Rick Singer—to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit. Prosecutors say Abdelaziz signed off on an athletic profile that touted the girl as a star, even though she didn't even make the cut for her high school varsity team.
  • Defendant II: Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, is charged with paying $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters' ways into Harvard and Stanford. Prosecutors say Singer told Wilson he couldn't secure spots for both girls on Stanford's sailing team because Singer said the coach "has to actually recruit some real sailors so that Stanford doesn't ... catch on."
  • Defense attorneys say ... that their clients had no knowledge of any false information submitted about their children. They say USC can't be a victim of fraud because the school regularly rewarded donors by giving their kids special treatment in admissions.
  • Prosecutors say ... the defense is trying to turn the case into a trial on USC's admissions policies instead of whether the parents agreed to lie and trump up their kids' athletic credentials. USC has said it wasn't aware of Singer's scheme until 2018, when it began cooperating with investigators.
(More college admissions bribery scandal stories.)

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