Private Equity Financier, Ex-Casino Executive First Parents Convicted In “Varsity Blues” Investigation
Two years after actress Felicity Huffman became the first parent to plead guilty in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal, two parents who opted to take it to trial have just been convicted, becoming the first parents to be convicted since the start of the investigation.
One of those convicted is a private equity baron John Wilson; the other was former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz.
They were the first two parents to stand trial in the investigation, which was held at the federal courthouse in Boston. More than 50 parents, coaches and exam administrators and others implicated in the scheme have been indicted. Coaches from USC, Yale and Stanford, among other schools, were forced to quit or arrested as they were exposed for taking bribes to recruit rich kids as athletes.
Many parents including Huffman have already pleaded guilty and cut a deal rather than taking their chances at trial. Of the 57 defendants arrested, 48 have either pleaded guilty, or agreed to plead guilty, including Rick Singer, the alleged mastermind of the scheme.
Abdelaziz was accused of paying $300K in 2018 to have his daughter admitted to USC as a supposedly “top-ranked basketball recruit” even though she didn’t make the varsity team in high school.
Wilson was accused of paying $220K in 2014 to have his son admitted as a water polo recruit at USC. His son did play water polo, but prosecutors said he was not good enough to play at the collegiate leve.
Wilson was also accused of agreeing to pay $1.5MM in 2018 to have his twin daughters, who were good students, admitted to Harvard and Stanford via the athlete recruitment scheme.
Their defense lawyers argued that the parents were simply playing by the rules of a rigged system as they understood them. They also claimed that the parents were effectively “scammed” by Wilson, who has admitted to coming up with the scheme.
For Wilson, the private equity financier, his lawyer claims that he wasn’t even aware of the scheme, even though Singer attested to sending them falsified athletic photos of their children.
They were convicted on charges of conspiring to commit bribery and fraud and Wilson was also found guilty of filing a false tax return for taking a deduction for a payment that the government called a bribe.
The two men could each face up to 20 years in federal prison on the most serious charges, though one defense attorney told the NYT that she doubts the pair would receive more than 5 years, meaning they could be out in 2.5 on good behavior.