Jamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and bribery, in addition to Wilson’s wiring fraud and filing false tax returns.
Two wealthy parents were convicted on Friday of buying their children into school posing as athletic recruits in the first case to go to trial in the college admissions fraud scandal that has engulfed prestigious universities across the country.
Jamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a former Staples Inc. Executive, was found guilty after nearly 10 hours of deliberation in the case, which revealed plans to enter the college by falsely portraying ineligible applicants as star athletes.
“What they did was an insult to hardworking students and parents, but today’s ruling proves that even these defendants – powerful and privileged people – are not above the law,” Nathaniel Mendel, acting US Attorney for Massachusetts, told reporters.
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Abdelaziz of Las Vegas was accused of paying $300,000 to bring his daughter to the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit, even though she didn’t make it to his high school’s varsity team. Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, was accused of paying $220,000 to designate his son as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters avenues at Harvard and Stanford. paid.
He is to be sentenced in February. Abdelaziz’s lawyer vowed to appeal.
“This is clearly not the outcome Mr. Abdelaziz was hoping for, but so we have the appellate courts,” Attorney Brian Kelly said in an email.
An email was sent to Wilson’s attorney seeking comment.
They are among about 60 people charged by authorities in the investigation known as “Operation Varsity Blues,” which also implicated athletic coaches at prestigious schools such as Georgetown and Yale. Other parents were accused of paying hefty bribes to cheat people in their children’s entrance exams.
Thirty-three parents, including TV actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, have pleaded guilty. The parents have so far received sentences ranging from probation to nine months in prison. All told, about four dozen people have accepted the charges.
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Lawyers for Abdelaziz and Wilson argued that they believed their payment was a legitimate donation and pointed the finger at Rick Singer, the admissions consultant at the heart of the plan. The parents insisted that they had no idea that Singer was using their money as bribes and false or exaggerated athletic credentials on behalf of their children.
At the center of the case was a series of secretly recorded phone calls between Singer and parents, which prosecutors said Abdelaziz and Wilson were involved in the scheme. The FBI wiretapped Singer’s calls and then convinced the admissions counselor to begin cooperating with investigators in 2018 to find a lighter sentence. Singer has pleaded guilty to several charges, including conspiracy to commit money laundering, and has yet to receive a sentence.
In a call, Wilson asked Singer which sport “would be best” for his twin daughters. Singer replied that it “doesn’t matter” and that he would “make him a sailor or something” as Wilson lives on Cape Cod.
Wilson laughed and asked: “Is there a special for two? If you have twins?”
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In another call, Singer told Abdelaziz that Donna Heinel, the former senior associate athletic director at USC, told him that Abdelaziz’s daughter’s fake athletic profile was so well made up that she wished she could use that profile for “someone.” Even for the person who isn’t a real basketball “player who is a woman.”
“I love it,” replied Abdelaziz.
The defense tried to poke holes in the government’s case by questioning why they decided not to call Singer on the stand. Lawyers for Abdelaziz and Wilson portrayed Singer as a thug who molested parents and assured them that his so-called side-door scheme was legitimate and supported by schools.
Wilson’s attorney, Michael Kendall, told jurors, “John is not a part of Singer’s con. There is no evidence, not even an indication, that John discovered Singer’s scandal. The truth is simple: John Singer is a victim, not once but twice.” in your closing argument.
Wilson and Abdelaziz were both convicted of charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and bribery. Wilson was also convicted of additional charges of bribery, wire fraud and filing false tax returns.
The giant Varsity Blues case from Boston has been on trial since authorities began investigating the scheme years ago, due to a tip from an executive targeted in a securities fraud investigation.
Heinel and two coaches — former USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic and former Wake Forest University women’s volleyball coach William Ferguson — are due to stand trial in November. The three other parents are expected to face a jury in January.