Parents guilty in first ‘Varsity Blues’ college admissions trial

A federal jury convicted two parents in the first trial in the U.S. college admissions scandal, estimating that they spent several hundred thousand dollars to illegally admit their children to top universities.

The parents, John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy after 10 hours of deliberation by a jury that spent 14 days hearing evidence against them.

The trial took place more than two years after the case was announced, and after most of the 57 parents and other alleged participants involved in it – including several business executives and two Hollywood celebrities – pleaded guilty.

The sentencing of Wilson and Abdelaziz was set for February; those who admit their guilt have usually been sentenced to prison terms of a few months.

Massachusetts Chief Federal Attorney Nathaniel Mendell called the project “an affront to hard-working students and parents.”

“They and their families enjoy privileges and opportunities that most of us can only imagine,” Mr. Mendell said of the two defendants after their guilty verdicts were read. “Yet they were prepared to break the law in order to guarantee the admission of their children to the school of their choice. “

His predecessor in the office, Andrew Lelling, who brought the lawsuits in early 2019, called the trial outcome a “grand statement against the abuse of extreme privilege.”

The result increases the likelihood of convictions in the few remaining cases, Mr Lelling said, as prosecutors won without needing testimony from William Singer, the California admissions counselor who was the mastermind behind the scheme.

Singer agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors after his operation was discovered by authorities pursuing an unrelated criminal investigation. But her reputation for deception – repeatedly described during the trial – was widely seen as posing a high risk to prosecutors considering including her as a witness at the trial.

Singer led the program primarily by portraying the students as athletes who could gain entry into targeted institutions with the help of college coaches and athletic officials who are entitled to a limited number of places of admission to the top. players.

Abdelaziz was convicted of paying $ 300,000 (£ 220,000) to have his daughter admitted to the University of Southern California as a basketball player, and Wilson was convicted of paying 220 $ 000 to get his son into USC as a water polo star. In both of these cases, however, the students played these sports, while Singer’s inventions in other cases involved children who had little or no experience in the sport.

Wilson has also been accused of spending an additional $ 1.5 million in an attempt to gain his twin daughters entry to Harvard and Stanford universities.

The two convictions, while celebrated by prosecutors, do not end questions of American higher education in general and USC in particular. USC was the primary institution Singer used in his scheme to gain student admissions through falsified admissions and bribes, and the next scheduled trial involves two former USC employees who are said to be central partners of Singer.

The trial, tentatively scheduled to start in the middle of next month, includes Jovan Vavic, a former USC water polo coach, and Donna Heinel, a former USC athletics official. The third accused grouped with them is William Ferguson, a former volleyball coach at Wake Forest University.

Wilson and Abdelaziz’s trial included evidence and testimony showing that USC pressured officials such as Heinel to find ways to generate income from his position. Defense lawyers have also repeatedly pointed out that America’s elite universities give clear admission preferences to the children of their major financial donors.

Mr Lelling acknowledged the complication posed by this reality, although he and current prosecutors have pointed out the illegal nature of university employees themselves exchanging admission slots for donations, even though the profits are spent within a university and its sports operations.

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