First trial in bribe program for college admissions by jury

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) – Two wealthy parents who are the first to stand trial in college admissions bribery scandal have used lies and money to steal coveted places at prestigious schools their children won’t couldn’t get it on their own, a prosecutor said on Wednesday before jurors decide whether the men are guilty.

Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson wanted to be assured that their children would go to the school of their choice and agreed to use fraud and corruption to designate them as sports recruits in order to make this a reality, the prosecutor said. US Deputy Stephen Frank to the Jurors during his oral argument.

John Wilson, second from left, holds hands with his wife, second from right, as he leaves the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse after the first day of his trial in the college admissions scandal on Monday September 13, 2021, in Boston. (Photo AP / Stew Milne)

“These parents weren’t ready to take ‘no’ for an answer and to come up with ‘yes’ they crossed a line,” Frank said. “And by crossing that line, they broke the law.”

The case will now reach jurors more than two years after FBI agents arrested dozens of parents, sports coaches and other well-known people across the country in a scheme involving results rigged tests and fake sports references. Nearly four dozen people have already pleaded guilty in this case.

Abdelaziz and Wilson face charges including conspiracy to commit mail and email fraud and honest service mail and email fraud. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating on Thursday after the judge gives his instructions.

Lawyers for the couple have portrayed their clients as the victims of a con artist: the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme – Rick Singer – who never spoke up. Parents insist they knew nothing about bribes and fake or embellished sports credentials and that Singer tricked them into believing they were making legal donations to give their children a helping hand. the admission process.

“John is not part of the Singer scam. There is no proof, not even a clue, that John discovered the Singer scam. The truth is simple: John is Singer’s victim, not once but twice, ”Wilson’s attorney Michael Kendall told jurors.

Abdelaziz, a former Las Vegas casino manager, is accused of paying $ 300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball rookie. Wilson, a former Staples executive who now runs a private equity firm in Massachusetts, is accused of paying $ 220,000 to have his son named as a USC water polo rookie and $ 1 million extra to buy her twin daughters’ tickets to Harvard and Stanford.

Prosecutors played jurors a series of secretly taped phone calls between Singer and the parents in an attempt to prove that the parents not only knew their payments were bribes, but that they were also enthusiastic participants. to fraud. Singer, who began cooperating with investigators in 2018 in hopes of securing a lighter sentence, has pleaded guilty but has yet to be convicted.

During a call with Singer, Wilson asked which sports “would be best” for his twin daughters. Singer replied that it “doesn’t matter” and that he “would make a sailor out of him or something” because Wilson lives on Cape Cod.

Wilson laughed and asked Singer, “Is there a two-for-one special?” If you have twins?

Singer told Abdelaziz in another appeal that his foundation was being audited by the IRS – a ruse that authorities asked Singer to use in hopes of getting parents to admit the program. on tape.

Singer told Abdelaziz he would not tell the IRS the money was used to enroll his daughter in school “even though she was not a legitimate basketball player at that level” and asked to Abdelaziz if he was okay with that.

“Of course,” replied Abdelaziz.

Among those who testified during the more than three-week trial was a classmate of Abdelaziz’s daughter, who told jurors that the girl was not even part of the varsity team. Even though she only played two years on the junior varsity team, her college essay read, “The basketball court is like my art studio,” according to prosecutors.

A lawyer for Abdelaziz accused prosecutors of choosing from among phone calls to make it appear that his client had done something wrong and of failing to call key witnesses – like Singer – who he said would prove that he was doing something wrong. ‘they have a weak record. Lawyer Brian Kelly said Abdelaziz never saw the girl’s bogus athletic profile and never agreed to bribe anyone.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors,” Kelly said of the government case. “They don’t have the evidence to prove his guilt,” he added.

Wilson’s attorney told jurors they may think Wilson was “naive” or “even foolish” to believe Singer when the admissions consultant told him that schools approved of his so-called “next door” business. But that doesn’t mean he committed crimes, Kendall said.

“If John Wilson believed the stories Mr. Singer told him – and he clearly did – it proves that he acted in good faith and you must find him not guilty,” he said.

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