Jury finds 2 parents guilty of bribery, fraud in Varsity Blues scandal
John Wilson and Gamal Aziz, a pair of high-powered parents who were the first to be brought to trial in the Operation Varsity Blues scandal, were convicted Friday of bribery and fraud for attempting to get their children into top universities based on fake athletic credentials.
A federal jury in Boston took 10 hours to return guilty verdicts for Wilson, a former Staples and Gap leader, and Aziz, the former COO of Wynn Resorts Development and ex-CEO of MGM Resorts International. They are scheduled to be sentenced in February, though it is likely that they will appeal.
“These parents were not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer, and to get to ‘yes’ they crossed a line,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank said in the courtroom. “In crossing that line, they broke the law.”
More than 30 others, including celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, already have pleaded guilty in the bombshell case, in which wealthy parents used their power and significant resources to get their kids into the institutions of the choosing through sports, allegedly through connections with California-based admissions counselor Rick Singer, who also has pled guilty. All were charged more than two years ago.
Wilson, a private equity executive from Lynnfield, Mass., was said to have paid $1 million to Singer to try to get his two daughters into Stanford and Harvard. Five years earlier, he paid more than $200,000 for his son to gain admission to the University of Southern California as a water polo star. None were high-level recruits but their payments to Singer and the willingness of coaches to accept money in return got them spots.
Meanwhile, Aziz (also known as Abdelaziz) agreed to pay $300,000 to Singer to have his daughter gain acceptance into USC through athletics, though she had no recruiting prowess as a basketball player.
They pled not guilty and attempted to convince jurors that they had no knowledge that the payments they were making were not legal, that they were simply contributions to the school.
“[Aziz] never agreed with Rick Singer to bribe anyone at USC and he never agreed with Rick Singer to defraud USC with some phony profile that he never saw,” his attorney, Brian Kelly said. Kelly earlier had said in the trial, “Giving money to a school with a hope that it gets your kid in is not a crime.”
However, several calls wiretapped by the FBI placed between Singer and Aziz, as well as others with Wilson, proved to be damning, showing their acceptance of transactions in great detail.
In addition to the parents involved, coaches from Yale, Stanford, UCLA, UC San Diego, the University of Texas-Austin and Wake Forest also have been implicated or named in the scandal, which was revealed in March 2019.
Singer, who admitted to bribery and helping boost test score numbers, was charged with multiple conspiracy counts, including racketeering, money laundering, defrauding the United States and obstruction of justice. The former basketball coach in northern California who turned to helping high school students gain admissions to colleges has yet to be sentenced.