‘Varsity Blues’ Scandal Convictions of Two Wealthy Parents Overturned
Fraud convictions of former Wynn Resorts executive Gamal Aziz, aka Gamal Abdelaziz, and private equity executive John Wilson — charged for paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their kids into top universities — were thrown out on Wednesday by a U.S. federal appeals court, Reuters reports.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled in a 3-0 decision in favor of Wilson and Aziz, two of dozens of defendants charged in the major college admissions scandal codenamed “Operation Varsity Blues.”
“Mr. Abdelaziz has maintained his absolute innocence from day one and is enormously grateful that the Appeals Court has reversed his unfair conviction,” Aziz’s attorneys, Brian T. Kelly and Joshua C. Sharp, said in a statement. “We are pleased to have represented him in this matter and look forward to Mr. Abdelaziz putting this behind him.”
The scandal broke in 2019 and gained widespread attention for high profile defendants like actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman who were among the more than 50 guilty pleas, per the report.
At the center of the probe was William “Rick” Singer, the college admissions counselor who told his wealthy clientele about a “side door” to college entry for their children that involved giving money to schools or their athletic programs. “I was essentially buying or bribing the coaches for a spot,” Singer, who pleaded guilty in 2021 to his role in the scam, said in court. “That occurred very frequently.”
Prosecutors accused Aziz of paying $300,000 to send his daughter to the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit, although she wasn’t a stand-out basketball player in high school. Wilson, the founder of Hyannis Port Capital, was accused of paying $1.5 million to pass his daughters off as sailors to Harvard and Stanford.
Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch stated that because the trial judge made an error in instructing jurors that admissions slots constituted property, Aziz and Wilson’s mail and wire fraud convictions had to be thrown out.
Lynch also said prosecutors were unable to prove that Aziz and Wilson agreed to join Singer’s larger conspiracy, despite introducing significant evidence about other parents’ misconduct, and called this an “unacceptable risk.”
Aziz’s convictions were all set aside. Wilson’s conviction for filing a false tax return was upheld.
This article was updated on Thursday, May 11 at 12:43 PM EST. to reflect comments from Aziz’s attorneys.