By Nate Raymond
A federal prosecutor at the end of the first trial in the U.S. college admissions scandal on Wednesday argued that two fathers corruptly tried to buy their kids’ way into universities, while a defense lawyer urged jurors to acquit and “get back to reality.”
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).
The prosecutor 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.”
But Brian Kelly, Aziz’s lawyer, said prosecutors could not prove the former Wynn Resorts Ltd executive intended to commit a crime, saying he considered Singer a trusted college counselor and thought his payments were legitimate donations to USC, not bribes.
He accused prosecutors of deciding against calling Singer – the star cooperating witness in the probe – to testify, saying the were afraid Singer would admit under defense questioning he never told Aziz he was joining a nationwide scheme.
“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.
Prosecutors 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.
Prosecutors said Wilson, the founder Hyannis Port Capital, in 2014 paid $220,000 to have his son falsely designated a USC water polo recruit.
They said he later sought to pay another $1.5 million to fraudulently secure spots for his two daughters at Stanford and Harvard universities, an arrangement Singer discussed with Wilson on recorded calls while cooperating with investigators.