Two parents urge appeals court to overturn convictions in Varsity Blues college admissions scandal | Tech US News


“The government was remarkably aggressive in trying to prevent the defense from mounting what it called a good faith defense,” Judge Kermit V. Lipez, a member of the three-judge panel, said during a two-hour hearing in federal court. in Boston.

Lipez said he did not understand why the trial judge denied the defense’s request to subpoena witnesses from the University of Southern California who could testify about the school’s admissions “culture” and whether unqualified applicants were routinely admitted if they came from wealthy families. . .

“The idea that ‘we didn’t do anything wrong, it was just the way of doing business,’ how can you say that this evidence wouldn’t be relevant?” Lipez said. “I do not understand that.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexia DeVincentis argued that Wilson and Abdelaziz received a fair trial and that the convictions should stand.

“This case was not about whether USC gave preferential treatment in admissions in exchange for donations,” DeVincentis said, adding that it was about whether Wilson and Abdelaziz misrepresented their children’s athletic abilities and paid bribes. to get her children into top colleges.

The court took the case into consideration.

Fifty-seven people, including wealthy parents, celebrities, teachers and administrators, have been indicted in a sweeping scandal that has shed light on the influence of wealth on college admissions and sent dozens to prison. Fifty-one people pleaded guilty, one parent received a pardon from then-President Donald Trump, and another received a deferred prosecution agreement.

Wilson and Abdelaziz, who were the first to go on trial, were convicted of participating in a bribery scheme orchestrated by a University of California consultant. They were convicted of conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to commit bribery to pay William “Rick” Singer, who used a fake charity he set up to direct payments to athletic coaches and administrators at Stanford University and the University of Southern California.

Wilson was also found guilty of additional charges of fraud and bribery and filing a false tax return for claiming a deduction for a $220,000 payment he made in 2014 to get his son into USC as a water polo recruit.

Jurors found that Wilson paid Singer $1 million in 2018 to set up his twin daughters as recruits at Stanford and Harvard for sports they did not play.

Abdelaziz was convicted of paying Singer $300,000 in 2018 to get his daughter into USC as a fake basketball recruit, even though she didn’t make her high school varsity team.

Abdelaziz was sentenced to a year in prison and Wilson to 15 months. Their sentences were stayed pending appeal. Singer, who cooperated with authorities and secretly recorded conversations with his parents after confronting the FBI, is expected to be sentenced in January on related charges.

On Monday, Washington attorney Noel J. Francisco, who represents Wilson, argued that the charges were legally wrong for several reasons. He said it was unprecedented for the government to charge Wilson and Abdelaziz with bribery in a case where the recipient of the bribe — USC — was also a victim.

“Donating to the university is not bribing employees; the school cannot be the victim of the scheme and its beneficiary at the same time,” Francisco wrote in a communication filed with the court. “No case of bribery in history combines these two incompatible roles with good reason.”

Francisco also argued that Wilson and Abdelaziz could not be part of an overarching conspiracy because the government failed to prove that they were aware of any actions by the other alleged members of the conspiracy.

Attorney Joshua Honig Sharp, who represents Abdelaziz, argued that all Abdelaziz knew was that Singer could help his daughter get to USC through a grant, and that knowledge did not implicate him in a “state conspiracy from coast to coast shores.”

Still, he argued, prosecutors were able to present “an avalanche of evidence of other parents’ wrongdoing,” including cheating on admissions tests.

Defense attorneys argued at trial that Wilson and Abdelaziz believed their donations to the schools were legal. They said they were unaware that Singer had passed bribes to corrupt coaches and administrators who falsified their children’s athletic credentials to get them accepted as recruits.

Wilson’s lawyers focused on evidence that his son Johnny was a talented water polo player in high school. Jurors were shown a thank you note Wilson received for donating $100,000 to the USC men’s water polo team.

But prosecutors proved that former USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic falsified Johnny Wilson’s athletic credentials to get him accepted as a walk-on recruit and that Singer paid tuition for Vavic’s sons’ private high school. Vavić was convicted in a separate trial, but the judge overturned his conviction in June and ordered a new trial.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.


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