Two parents were found guilty in federal court in Boston on Friday for participating in a bribery scheme to have their children fraudulently admitted as athletic recruits to some of the most prestigious universities in the country.
Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and John Wilson, a private equity financier, were the first people to stand trial in the federal investigation known as Operation Varsity Blues.
The investigation has snared more than 50 parents, coaches, exam administrators and others in an admissions scheme that implicated college athletic programs at the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgetown. Many other wealthy parents, including some celebrities, have pleaded guilty rather than take their chances in court.
Mr. Abdelaziz, 64, was accused of paying $300,000 in 2018 to have his daughter admitted to U.S.C. as a top-ranked basketball recruit even though she did not make the varsity team in high school. Mr. Wilson, 62, was accused of paying $220,000 in 2014 to have his son admitted as a water polo recruit at U.S.C. His son did play water polo, but prosecutors said he was not good enough to compete at the university.
Mr. Wilson was also accused of agreeing to pay $1.5 million in 2018 to have his twin daughters, who were good students, admitted to Harvard and Stanford as recruited athletes.
“What they did was an affront to hard-working students and parents,” Nathaniel R. Mendell, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said in a news conference after the verdict. “But the verdict today proves that even these defendants, powerful and privileged people, are not above the law.”
This was always going to be a really hard sell to a jury, but the appeal will be fascinating because it's not altogether clear that this is an actual federal fraud crime. Another interesting part of the case is that the government did not call its "star witness," Rick Singer, who made the tape recordings of all of the parents.
Sentencing will also be worth watching. DOJ has tracked every Varsity Blues case, and the highest sentence so far is 9 months and the highest sentence requested by the government has been 18 months. Where will these two defendants end up just because they had the gall to go to trial? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. I have the over-under at 24 months.