First Case to Go to Trial in College Admissions Scandal Ends With Parents' Convictions

The first case to go to trial in the "Operation Varsity Blues" college admission scandal ended with two wealthy parents being convicted for paying their children's way into prestigious universities.

Former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz was charged with paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit.

Former Staples Inc. executive John Wilson was accused of paying $220,000 for his son to get into USC as a water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to pay his twin daughters' ways into Harvard and Stanford.

Their lawyers argued that the parents believed their money was going toward a legitimate donation and insisted that they were unaware that admission consultant Rick Singer was using the payments as bribes or was falsifying athletic credentials to ensure their kids' admission.

In Boston, Massachusetts Friday, both men were convicted of fraud and bribery conspiracy charges. Wilson was convicted of additional charges of bribery, wire fraud and filing a false tax return.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

College Admissions Scandal
The first case to go to trial in the "Operation Varsity Blues" college admission scandal end with two wealthy parents convicted Friday for paying their children's way into school. Above, actress Lori Loughlin, center, and husband Mossimo Giannulli, center rear, exit the Boston Federal Court house after a pre-trial hearing with Magistrate Judge Kelley at the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston on August 27, 2019. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

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.

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.

In one call, Wilson asked Singer which sports "would be best" for his twin daughters. Singer responded that it "doesn't matter" and that he would "make them a sailor or something" because Wilson lives on Cape Cod.

Wilson laughed and asked: "Is there a two-for-one special? If you got twins?"

In another call, Singer told Abdelaziz that Donna Heinel, former senior associate athletic director at USC, told him Abdelaziz's daughter's fake athletic profile was so well done that she wanted him to use that profile going forward for "anybody who isn't a real basketball player that's a female."

"I love it," Abdelaziz responded.

The defense sought to poke holes in the government's case by questioning why they chose not to call Singer to the stand. Abdelaziz and Wilson's lawyers portrayed Singer as a con man who manipulated the parents and assured them his so-called side-door scheme was legitimate and endorsed by the schools.

"He never agreed with Rick Singer to bribe anyone at USC and he never agreed with Rick Singer to defraud USC with some phony profile that he never saw," Abdelaziz's attorney, Brian Kelly, told jurors during his closing argument.

The sprawling Varsity Blues case has been prosecuted out of Boston since authorities there began investigating the scheme years ago, thanks to a tip from an executive targeted in a securities fraud probe.

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.

College Admissions Scandal Trial
Former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz was charged with paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit. Above, Abdelaziz arrives at federal court October 7 in Boston. Josh Reynolds/AP Photo