According to a court filing issued yesterday, federal prosecutors dropped charges against John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz, former MGM and Wynn senior executive, involved in a college admissions scandal, also known as “Varsity Blues”. Abdelaziz reportedly gave $300k to college admission consultant William Singer, to ensure his daughter would be admitted to the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit. Wilson paid William Singer $220k to bribe his kid’s way into the university.
Of all 33 defendants in the case, only Wilson and Abdelaziz went to trial. Last year, Abdelaziz was convicted by a Boston jury and received a 13-month jail sentence for bribing his daughter’s way into the university. Besides, he was ordered to complete 400 hours of community service, pay a $250k fine, and serve two years of supervised release. Wilson was sentenced to 15 months in jail. Abdelaziz and Wilson’s attorneys tried to convince the judge that the two men were deceived by William Singer.
Singer, on the other hand, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud the US, and obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 3.5 years in federal prison and forfeiture of over $10 million for masterminding the conspiracy scheme and accepting the bribe. According to prosecutors, Singer collected over $25 million from his clients, paid bribes of over $7 million, and spent more than $15 million for his personal needs and wishes.
What Made the First Circuit Court of Appeals Drop the Two Men’s Convictions?
The Department of Justice said that Abdelaziz and Wilson paid the bribe to Key Worldwide Foundation, a fake charitable organization operated by William Singer. Singer was identified as the mastermind of the biggest fraudulent college admissions scheme in the United States. Singer admitted to accepting bribes from well-off parents to ensure their children would be admitted to prestigious universities and colleges as elite recruited athletes.
In May this year, the First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Abdelaziz and Wilson’s convictions. According to Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, the trial judge made a mistake by instructing jurors that college admissions include a “property that could be stolen”. The First Circuit also agreed with the defense that if the university was the victim, as claimed by federal prosecutors, the payments could not be considered bribes because payments to a victim are not bribes in the eyes of the law.
She also explained that the prosecution could not prove that the defendants deliberately participated in Singer’s conspiracy scheme. Ms. Lynch explained that the court’s decision does not justify the two men’s behavior. While the judges dropped all charges against Wynn Resorts’ former executive, Wilson’s conviction of filing a false tax return was upheld.
In a statement, Abdelaziz’s lawyer said that his client pleaded not guilty from the beginning and upheld his version of the story till the end of the trial, which was admirable. However, the ruling raised controversy because other parents, such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, pleaded guilty and were convicted. The scandal, however, revealed how wealthy parents bribe their children’s way into reputable universities by making generous “donations”. As a result, several universities, including the University of Southern California, have changed their admission policies.