College admissions scandal: Guilty verdict reached in trial of 2 parents accused in bribery scheme

BOSTON — The first two of more than four dozen defendants charged in a nationwide college admissions scandal, dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, were convicted in federal court on Friday for bribing university officials to admit their children, whom they fraudulently portrayed as successful student athletes.

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A Boston jury found ex-casino chief Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, and private equity firm founder John Wilson, 62, guilty of bribery and fraud charges as part of a broader federal investigation that has snared more than 50 parents, coaches and school administrators, The New York Times reported.

Others implicated in the far-reaching plot - including celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman - have pleaded guilty to their crimes rather than stand trial, BBC News reported.

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The scandal has also implicated college athletic programs at the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, Wake Forest and Georgetown, the Times reported.

According to BBC News, federal prosecutors accused Abdelaziz of paying USC $300,000 in 2018 to have his daughter admitted as a top basketball recruit, despite having failed to make her high school basketball team.

Meanwhile, Wilson was accused of paying USC $220,000 in 2014 for his son to be admitted as a water polo player, despite his skills falling well below the university’s recruitment standards for the sport. He was also accused of offering to pay a $1.5 million bribe for his twin daughters to be admitted to Stanford and Harvard, the Times reported.

Both Abdelaziz and Wilson face up to 20 years in jail, with sentencing slated for February.

“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.”

Both Abdelaziz and Wilson were convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud, while Wilson alone was found guilty of additional fraud and bribery charges and of filing a false tax return for taking a deduction for a payment that the government called a bribe, the Times reported.

Both men argued at trial that they were duped by the scheme’s mastermind, identified as William Singer, who they claim told them he could secure admissions for their children through a “side door” for athletes. Both Abdelaziz and Wilson testified that they were unaware the “side door” constituted bribes, BBC News reported.

In a statement issued following the verdict, USC said, “We respect the judicial process and the jury’s decision.”

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