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Parents 'crossed a line' in U.S. college scandal, prosecutor tells jury

WorldOct 06, 2021 03:16PM ET
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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former Wynn Resorts executive Gamal Abdelaziz, also known as Gamal Aziz, arrives at federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) -A federal prosecutor at the end of the first trial in the U.S. college admissions scandal on Wednesday argued that two fathers made "dirty" deals to buy their kids' way into universities, as defense lawyers countered that they never meant to bribe anyone.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Frank told the Boston jury that former casino executive Gamal Aziz and private equity firm founder John Wilson were caught on tape discussing how to get their children into universities through fraud and bribery.

Frank said Aziz and Wilson paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to have corrupt university insiders designate their children as sports recruits, securing spots for two of them at the University of Southern California (USC).

Frank said they did so with the help of the scheme's mastermind, William "Rick" Singer, a California college admissions consultant whose clients would "stop at nothing to get their children admitted to the college of their choice."

"These parents were not willing to take 'no' for an answer," Frank said in his closing argument. "And to get to 'yes,' they crossed a line."

Defense lawyers countered that Aziz and Wilson were conned themselves by Singer, who kept them in the dark about his scheme's mechanics and led them to believe their money was being used for university donations, not bribes.

"John never intended to pay a bribe," said Michael Kendall, Wilson's lawyer. "He always thought he was giving a donation to the program."

Brian Kelly, Aziz's lawyer, accused prosecutors of not calling Singer - the star cooperating witness in the probe - to testify because they were afraid he would admit under defense questioning he never told Aziz he was joining a nationwide conspiracy.

"Let's get back to reality here," Kelly said.

Aziz and Wilson are among 57 people charged in the "Operation Varsity Blues" investigation, which ensnared business executives and celebrities. They included actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who were among 47 people who agreed to plead guilty.

Singer pleaded guilty in 2019 to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and funneling money from the parents to corrupt coaches and athletics officials in order to secure the admission of their children as fake athletes.

In his closing argument, Frank said Aziz, also known as Gamal Abdelaziz, agreed in 2018 to pay $300,000 to secure his daughter's admission to USC as a basketball recruit.

The prosecutor said Wilson, the founder Hyannis Port Capital, in 2014 paid $220,000 to have his son falsely designated a USC water polo recruit.

Kendall countered that Wilson's son, who was on his high school's swim team, was far from an illegitimate recruit and attended water polo practices. Frank said what mattered was the father's intent before his son attended USC, not after.

He cited a later "dirty deal" Wilson struck with Singer in 2018 to pay $1.5 million to fraudulently secure spots for his two daughters at Stanford and Harvard universities, an arrangement Singer discussed with him on recorded calls while cooperating.

Parents 'crossed a line' in U.S. college scandal, prosecutor tells jury

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