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News Update

Two convictions thrown out in ‘Varsity Blues’ college admissions scandal

A federal appeals court in Boston on Wednesday overturned the convictions of two wealthy businessmen in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal — including by rejecting a central claim of prosecutors: that the fathers had knowingly conspired with other parents to buy their children’s way into Harvard, Stanford and USC, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Both Gamal Abdelaziz, a former Las Vegas casino executive, and John Wilson, a private equity executive, paid self-styled college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to get their kids into the schools by presenting them as better athletes than they were, according to court filings.

Abdelaziz and Wilson were convicted of mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery in 2021, and sentenced last year to a year in prison and 15 months in prison, respectively.

Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch wrote for the court that the government had “failed to prove that Abdelaziz or Wilson agreed to join the overarching conspiracy,” but nonetheless introduced “a significant amount of powerful evidence related to other parents’ wrongdoing.”

That, she wrote, created “an unacceptable risk that the jury convicted Abdelaziz and Wilson based on others’ conduct rather than their own.”

Abdelaziz was accused of paying $300,000 to get his daughter into USC as a basketball recruit, while Wilson was accused of paying $220,000 to get his son into USC as a water polo recruit and $1 million to get his twin daughters into Harvard and Stanford.

The court upheld Wilson’s conviction for filing a false tax return, for misrepresenting a payment to Singer as a tax-deductible donation.

Federal prosecutors are studying the appellate court ruling for a possible appeal, the Times reported.