'Varsity Blues' Mastermind Won't Testify in Trial of 2 Parents Accused in Admissions Scheme

The admissions consultant behind the "Varsity Blues" scheme, an elaborate college admissions cheating scandal involving celebrities and elite universities, will not be called by prosecutors to take the stand in the case's first trial, the Associated Press reported.

Rick Singer, who was charged with racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of justice, pleaded guilty but has yet to be sentenced. Defense attorneys say they plan to capitalize on the prosecution's decision to not call Singer to testify in the trial of two parents, which opened Monday, the AP said.

"The case revolves around Rick Singer, the whole investigation. It's why we're here. And now in opening statement the government says, 'Never mind, we're not calling him.' Think about that when you eventually deliberate," Brian Kelly, former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz's lawyer, told jurors.

Defense attorneys described Singer as a con artist who lured parents into the scheme. The lawyer for former Staples and Gap executive John Wilson said that Wilson's son was a talented water polo player and that Singer told Wilson he could get his son into his school of choice with a "donation," which Wilson believed was legitimate, according to the AP.

"Before and after he started working for the government, Mr. Singer repeatedly told John that the side door was perfectly legitimate and exactly what the schools wanted," Wilson's attorney, Michael Kendall, said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Operation Varsity Blues
The first trial in the college admissions bribery scandal opened Monday. Above, John Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, arrives at federal court in Boston with his wife, Leslie, on April 3, 2019, to face charges in the case. Charles Krupa, File/AP Photo

The defense attorneys are seeking to portray the two parents accused of buying their kids' way into school as victims of a con man who believed their payments were legitimate donations.

Defense attorneys said Abdelaziz and Wilson never discussed paying bribes. They were assured by Singer that what they were doing was a perfectly legal practice to give children of parents with deep pockets a leg up in admissions, the defense said.

"It's not illegal to give money to schools with the hope that it helps your kid get in," Kelly told jurors in his opening statement. "No one ever said bribery to him."

The first trial in the case is getting underway in Boston's federal court more than two years after prosecutors arrested 50 parents, athletic coaches and others in the scheme that embroiled elite universities across the country.

Thirty-three other 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.

Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, is accused of paying $300,000 to the sham charity run by the scheme's mastermind to get his daughter into the University of Southern California (USC) 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, 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 the parents were well aware their payments were designed to get their kids into school as athletic recruits with fake or embellished credentials as part of Singer's so-called, side-door scheme.

"That is what this case is about: lies," Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Wright said. It's "not about wealthy people donating money to universities with the hope that their children get preferential treatment in the admissions process."

Prosecutors will show jurors emails and phone calls between Singer and the parents that the admissions consultant recorded after he began cooperating with investigators in 2018.

In one phone call, Singer told Abdelaziz that a USC official 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," according to court documents.

"I love it," Abdelaziz responded.

The first witness for the government is Bruce Isackson who—along with his wife, Davina—pleaded guilty in 2019 to paying $600,000 to get his daughters into USC and the University of California, Los Angeles. The Isacksons agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

Bruce Isackson told jurors that Singer claimed to have done the side-door scheme "countless times" and that it was "basically bulletproof." That promise was important to him and his wife when considering whether to join in on the scheme because he said they "didn't want to be guinea pigs" and "have this blow up" and his daughter exposed.

The trial is expected to last a few weeks.

All told, nearly four dozen people have admitted to charges in the case. They include coaches at such schools as Yale, Stanford and UCLA.

A former senior associate athletic director at USC, Donna Heinel, and three coaches are scheduled to stand trial in November. Three other parents are expected to face jurors in January.