A Boston court on Friday found two wealthy parents guilty of buying their kids’ ways into colleges in the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal.
Former casino chief Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples Inc. executive John Wilson were the first defendants among five dozen standing trial in the high-profile college admissions scam.
Abdelaziz is accused of paying $300,000 to have his daughter enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) as a basketball recruit, even though she was not a member of her high school sports team. Wilson paid $220,000 to have his son enrolled at USC and another $1 million to get his daughters into Harvard and Stanford.
‘Privileged People Are Not Above the Law’
While the two defendants argued that their payments to admissions counselor Rick Singer were legitimate donations, the jury ruled that the scam “was an affront to hardworking students and parents” and the donations would be counted as bribes offered to elite schools.
The jury heard audio recordings of phone calls between Singer and the two men. In one of the clips, Singer was heard saying, “I’m not going to tell the IRS that your $300,000 was paid to Donna Heinel at USC to get Sabrina into school even though she wasn’t a legitimate basketball player at that level.” Sabrina is Abdelaziz’s daughter.
In another clip, Wilson asked Singer which sport would “suit” his daughters. “Is there a two-for-one special? If you got twins?,” Wilson can be heard joking.
Prosecutors agreed that the conversations were proof that the two fathers knew they were bribing Singer.
“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,” Attorney Nathaniel Mendell said in a statement to the press.
The two accused could face 20 years in prison. The sentencing is scheduled for February.
Three other defendants will face trials next month in the million-dollar varsity scam, while others have already served their sentences after pleading guilty to their crimes rather than standing trial, such TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.
The investigation into the scheme involved dozens of administrators and coaches. Almost 50 parents have pleaded guilty since the indictments began in 2019.