Parents convicted of college scam remain free during appeal

BOSTON — Two men convicted of buying their children’s places at top colleges will stay out of jail while they appeal their case under the college admissions bribery program, a a Boston judge ordered Thursday.

Also on Thursday, another judge ruled that a woman who worked for the mastermind of the program and took online courses for students to improve their admissions prospects would not serve time behind bars.

John Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, and Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, were convicted last year in the first case to go to trial under the intake program involving wealthy parents and universities.

Dozens of wealthy parents and athletic trainers have pleaded guilty in the case, which was brought in 2019. They include TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli.

Wilson was sentenced to 15 months in prison, while Abdelaziz was sentenced to one year. Their sentences are the longest handed down in the case to date.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton ruled that both men could remain free on bail pending appeal of their convictions. His decision came shortly after prosecutors dropped their opposition to the defense’s attempt to keep them in jail while they argue their case.

Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, was accused of paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball freshman, even though she didn’t even make it into the varsity team at his high school.

Wilson, who runs a Massachusetts private equity firm, was accused of paying $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water polo rookie and another $1 million to buy the lanes from her twin daughters at Harvard and Stanford.

Lawyers for Wilson and Abdelaziz argued that their clients believed they were making legitimate donations and that the admissions consultant at the center of the scandal, Rick Singer, presented his so-called “side door” scheme as legal. Wilson’s attorneys are attacking several aspects of the trial, including the judge’s refusal to let jurors see evidence they say shows “USC routinely disguises donor children as athletic recruits.”

Noel Francisco, the former United States solicitor general whom Wilson hired to appeal his case, applauded the judge’s decision.

“The fact is, John’s case is different from others in the Varsity Blues scandal. His children were qualified for admission on their own merits, and none of his money was intended to enrich any particular individual – rather, it was for the schools and their athletic programs,” Francisco said in a statement sent by email.

Brian Kelly, attorney for Abdelaziz, said his client “is pleased with this result and can now focus on overturning his conviction” in the 1st US Circuit Court of Appeals.

Later Thursday, another federal court judge in Boston sentenced Mikaela Sanford, a former Singer employee, to time already served.

Prosecutors said that soon after Sanford took Singer’s job, she began taking high school and college classes for students to help them raise their grade point averages in exchange for Singer’s money. . She got $1,250 for high school and $2,500 for college tuition, prosecutors say.

Among other things, Sanford also put fake awards on students’ college applications and changed the race or ethnicity of students on applications to increase their chances of getting into the schools, prosecutors said.

In asking for a jail sentence, prosecutors noted in court papers that “everything she did was at the direction of Singer” and that she accepted responsibility for her actions.

Singer, who began cooperating with investigators in 2018 in hopes of getting a lighter sentence, has yet to be convicted.

Sanford told U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani during her sentencing that she was sorry for what she described as “a horrible lapse in judgment and poor decision-making.”

“I can guarantee you, your honor, that I am so much more than that, so much better than that,” she said.

ABC News

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