Stew Milne / AP
BOSTON – The first trial in the college admissions corruption scandal opened on Monday with defense attorneys seeking to portray the two parents accused of buying their kids’ way to school as victims of a con artist who believed their payments were legitimate donations.
Defense attorneys said former casino manager Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples and Gap Inc. manager John Wilson never discussed bribes. The admissions consultant at the program center assured them that what they were doing was a perfectly legal practice to give children of parents with generous pockets a head start in admissions, the defense said.
“It is not illegal to give money to schools in the hope that it will help your child get in,” Abdelaziz’s lawyer Brian Kelly told jurors in his opening statement. “No one ever told him about bribery.”
First Trial In So-called “Operation Varsity Blues” Case Begins In Federal Court In Boston More Than Two Years After Prosecutors Arrest 50 Parents, Sports Trainers And Others In Scheme That Involved Elite Colleges Across the country.
Thirty-three other parents have pleaded guilty, including TV actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli. Parents have so far received sentences ranging from probation to nine months in prison.
Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, is accused of paying $ 300,000 to the program’s mastermind-run bogus charity – admissions consultant Rick Singer – to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a than a basketball rookie, even though she didn’t even make it. the university team of his school.
Wilson, who runs a Massachusetts private equity firm, is accused of paying $ 220,000 to have his son named as a USC water polo rookie and an additional $ 1 million to purchase tickets for his twin daughters at Harvard and Stanford.
Prosecutors said parents were well aware their payments were designed to enroll their children in school as athletic rookies with fake credentials or embellishments as part of Singer’s so-called side door program.
“That is what this is all about: lies,” said Assistant US Attorney Leslie Wright. They are “not about rich people giving money to universities in the hope that their children will get preferential treatment in the admissions process.”
Prosecutors will show jurors the emails and phone calls between Singer and the parents that the admissions consultant recorded after he began cooperating with investigators in 2018.
During a phone call, Singer told Abdelaziz that a USC official told him that Abdelaziz’s daughter’s fake athletic profile was so well done that she wanted him to use that profile on his own. future for “anyone who is not a real basketball player who is a woman”, according to court documents.
“I love it,” replied Abdelaziz.
Singer, who has pleaded guilty but has not yet been convicted, was long due to be the government’s star witness. But prosecutors said they would not call the admissions consultant. Defense attorneys have suggested they will use the ruling in an attempt to cast doubt on the government’s case.
“The case revolves around Rick Singer, the whole investigation, which is why we’re here. And now, in the opening statement, the government says ‘too bad, we don’t call him.’ Think about it. when you finally deliberate, ”Kelly told jurors.
Defense attorneys described Singer as a clever con artist who mixed truth and lies and manipulated parents to line their pockets. Wilson’s attorney, Michael Kendall, said Wilson’s son was in fact a star water polo player and that Singer told Wilson that a donation could give students like his son a boost who were qualified to enter.
“Before and after he started working for the government, Mr. Singer told John repeatedly that the side door was perfectly legitimate and was exactly what the schools wanted,” Kendall said.
The government’s first witness is Bruce Isackson who, along with his wife Davina, pleaded guilty in 2019 to paying $ 600,000 to get his daughters into USC and the University of California at Los Angeles. The Isacksons have agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the hope of securing a lighter sentence.
Bruce Isackson told jurors that Singer claimed to have implemented the side door program “countless times” and that it was “essentially bulletproof”. This promise was important to him and his wife when they considered joining the program, as he said they “didn’t want to be guinea pigs” and “that this explosion” and his daughter be on display.
The trial is expected to last a few weeks.
In total, nearly four dozen people have admitted to being indicted in the case. They include coaches at schools such as Yale, Stanford, and UCLA.
Donna Heinel, former assistant general manager of sports at USC, and three coaches are scheduled to be judged in November. Three more parents are set to face jurors in January.