The first trial of the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions bribery scandal will begin this week, which may reveal investigators’ strategies and bring attention to the secret school selection process that many people have complained about for a long time, which benefits the wealthy. .
The jury selection will begin in Boston Federal Court on Wednesday. The case involves two parents-former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples and Gap Inc. executive John Wilson-who are accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to help them. Children entering the University of Southern California mistakenly describe them as sports recruits.
When the case made headlines more than two years ago, they were arrested along with dozens of famous parents, sports coaches and others across the country, but they were the first to stand trial.
Defense lawyers are expected to argue that their clients believe their payments are legitimate donations, and that USC’s treatment of their children is routine for financially-savvy parents.
“The government seems to want to present one-sided evidence to prove that the’school does not agree’ to grant preferential admission to donations, while preventing the defendant’s evidence that, in fact, the school agrees to this. Arrangement,” the lawyers for two senior executives in a court Writes in the document.
The prosecutor said that the defense was only trying to muddy the water in an obvious case of lying and fraud.
Since March 2019, a group of wealthy parents admitted that they paid huge fees to help their children enter elite schools with false test scores or fake sports certificates. The group-including television actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli-has received punishments ranging from probation to nine months.
Now, prosecutors face the challenge of persuading the jury that two of the few parents who are still arguing are guilty.
Abdulaziz of Las Vegas is accused of paying $300,000 to a fake charity run by the plan’s planner-admissions consultant Rick Singer-to allow his daughter to enter the University of Southern California as a basketball Recruits. The prosecutor said that Abdulaziz signed a sports image that touted the girl as a star, even though she did not even enter her high school team.
Wilson is the head of a private equity firm in Massachusetts. He is accused of paying $220,000 for his son to be designated as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to help his twin daughters enter Harvard and Stanford University.
The prosecutor said Singer told Wilson that he could not secure a seat for the two girls on the Stanford Sailing Team because according to Singer, the coach “must really recruit some real sailors so that Stanford won’t… catch up.” ”
Abdulaziz’s lawyer declined to comment before the trial, and Wilson’s lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.
The defense lawyers argued in court documents that their clients did not know any false information submitted about their children. They say the University of Southern California cannot be a victim of fraud, because the school often rewards donors by giving children special treatment when enrolling.
Prosecutors accused the defense of trying to turn the case into a trial for the admissions policy of the University of Southern California, rather than whether the parents agreed to lie and exaggerate the children’s sports qualifications. The University of Southern California said it didn’t know about Singer’s plan until it started working with investigators in 2018.
The judge told the defense at a recent hearing that “The University of Southern California is not in trial.” The judge said that the parents’ lawyers will be allowed to provide evidence that the school has admitted other unqualified students and that the parents of these students donated money. The judge said that the premise is that the defendant knew this when paying the alleged bribe.
An opening statement is expected to be issued on Monday. One of the issues that may affect the selection of the jury is the wealth of the defendant.
Defense lawyers have tried to prevent prosecutors from providing evidence about their income, wealth, expenses or lifestyle, saying that this would only “unfairly harm the jury.”
But U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton said that such evidence may indicate that parents’ motivation is to “let their children into elite universities so that they can maintain or improve their status in the community”.
Singer is an admissions consultant. He started working with the FBI in 2018 and recorded the phone calls between him and his parents. He has now pleaded guilty and has long been expected to be an important witness for the government. But the prosecutor has not yet indicated whether he intends to summon him to appear in court.
The defense attorney seized notes revealed in court documents last year. Singh claimed that investigators told him to lie to his parents to make a guilty statement. In Singer’s notes recorded on his mobile phone in 2018, Singer said that the agent instructed him that he told his parents that the payments were bribes.
The agents denied pressure to lie to Singh, but allowing Singh to appear in court might give the defender an opportunity to attack his credibility.
Brad Bailey, a former federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, said: “He may directly face those who suggest that he may actually be pressured to say something… If the jury believes this may A statement that the party caused a devastating blow.” Not participating in this case.
But at the same time, because the defense is allowed to “raise more questions that may actually lead to reasonable suspicion,” not calling Singer may cause greater problems for prosecutors, said Bailey, who is now a defense attorney.
Wilson also filed another lawsuit in April after Netflix filed a defamation lawsuit against his portrayal in its “Operation Varsity Blues” documentary.
Wilson’s lawyer wrote that Singer deceived him and insisted that his son was not a fake athlete, but was an “invited member of the U.S. Olympic Water Polo Development Program,” and his scores and test scores were “enough to qualify for admission to the University of Southern California.” ”
Another parent who was supposed to be tried with Abdulaziz and Wilson pleaded guilty last month and paid $500,000 for her son to enter the University of Southern California as a football recruit, even though he would not actually participate in the team the match of. Marci Palatella, the chief executive of a California liquor distribution company, is the 33rd parent to plead guilty in this case.
The other three parents plan to stand trial in January.
The huge school team blues case has been prosecuted in Boston because the authorities there began investigating the plan many years ago, thanks to a tip from an executive in a securities fraud investigation.