Wealthy dads convicted in US college admissions scandal

Former casino executive Gamal Aziz (left) and private equity firm founder John Wilson were found guilty of fraud and bribery conspiracy charges. PHOTOS: REUTERS

BOSTON (REUTERS) - Two wealthy fathers who were the first to face trial in the US college admissions scandal were convicted on Friday (Oct 8) of charges that they corruptly tried to buy their children's way into elite universities as phony athletic recruits.

A federal jury in Boston found former casino executive Gamal Aziz and private equity firm founder John Wilson guilty of fraud and bribery conspiracy charges related to their payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure admissions spots for their kids.

Jurors convicted the men on all counts they faced following over 10 hours of deliberations that began on Thursday after four weeks of trial.

Aziz and Wilson sat emotionless as the verdict was read out loud. Lawyers for Aziz declined to comment, while Wilson's could not be immediately reached.

Both men will be sentenced in February. They face the prospect of years in prison, though the longest sentence any parent has received in the scandal so far was nine months.

The two are among 57 people charged over a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with California college admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer to fraudulently secure college placement for their children.

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.

Both Aziz and Wilson are expected to appeal. Their lawyers contended they too were conned 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.

The verdict followed a four-week trial that hinged in large part on recordings investigators secretly obtained of the two parents with Singer, who became the chief cooperating witness in the "Operation Varsity Blues" investigation. Prosecutors did not call Singer to testify, instead relying on his recorded calls with parents.

The probe ensnared executives and celebrities including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, who were among 47 defendants who agreed to plead guilty. Former president Donald Trump pardoned one parent.

Aziz, also known as Gamal Abdelaziz, is a former Wynn Resorts executive. Wilson founded Hyannis Port Capital.

Prosecutors alleged Aziz, 62, agreed in 2018 to pay US$300,000 to secure his daughter's admission to the University of Southern California (USC) as a basketball recruit.

Remote video URL

Prosecutors said Wilson, 64, in 2014 paid US$220,000 to have his son falsely designated a USC water polo recruit.

They said he later paid another US$1 million (S$1.3 million) to try to fraudulently secure spots for his two daughters at Stanford and Harvard universities, an arrangement Singer in part discussed with Wilson on recorded calls while cooperating with investigators.

In a call prosecutors played for the jury, Singer told Wilson that it "doesn't matter" what sport they were paired with and that he would "make them a sailor or something."

Wilson laughed and responded: "Is there a two for one special? If you got twins?

In both parents' cases, prosecutors said that Singer and others working with him created athletic profiles used in the admissions process that included made-up information about their children.

Laura Janke, a former USC soccer coach who has admitted taking bribes from Singer, testified that he later paid her after she left the school to create a profile for Aziz's daughter that falsified her height, team position and accolades.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.