2 parents guilty in college bribery scandal
Two wealthy parents were convicted Friday of buying their kids’ way into school as athletic recruits in the first case to go to trial in the college admissions cheating scandal that embroiled prestigious universities across the country.
Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, were found guilty after about 10 hours of deliberations in the case that exposed a scheme to get undeserving applicants into college by falsely portraying them as star athletes.
Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, was charged with paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit even though she didn’t even make it onto her high school’s varsity team. Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, was accused of 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.
They are to be sentenced in February.
They are among nearly 60 people charged in the investigation dubbed by authorities as “Operation Varsity Blues” that also ensnared athletic coaches at such prestigious schools as Georgetown and Yale. Other parents were accused of paying hefty bribes to have people cheat on their kids’ entrance exams.
Thirty-three parents have pleaded guilty, including TV actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli. The parents have so far received punishments ranging from probation to nine months in prison. All told, nearly four dozen people have admitted to charges.
Lawyers for Abdelaziz and Wilson argued they believed their payments were legitimate donations and pointed the finger at the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme, Rick Singer. The parents insisted they had no idea that Singer was using their money as bribes and was falsifying or exaggerating athletic credentials on behalf of their kids.
At the center of the case were a series of secretly recorded phone calls between Singer and the parents that prosecutors said proved Abdelaziz and Wilson were in on the scheme. The FBI wiretapped Singer’s calls and then convinced the admissions consultant to begin cooperating with investigators in 2018 in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence. Singer has pleaded guilty to a slew of charges, including money laundering conspiracy, and has yet to be sentenced.
Heinel and two coaches — ex-USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic and former Wake Forest University women’s volleyball coach William Ferguson — are scheduled to stand trial in November. Three other parents are expected to face jurors in January.