Prosecutors drop Varsity Blues charges against 2 parents after appeals court ruling

Jun 29, 2023, 8:53 AM

BOSTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors are dropping charges against two parents whose convictions in the sprawling college admissions bribery scandal were overturned by an appeals court, prosecutors said Thursday.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May tossed all the convictions against Gamal Abdelaziz and all but one conviction of another parent, John Wilson. The Boston-based appeals court upheld Wilson’s conviction on a charge of filing a false tax return.

The Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office told the judge in court papers that it’s dismissing those charges tossed by the 1st Circuit, and asked to set a new sentencing date for Wilson on the tax count.

Wilson had been found them guilty in 2021 of buying their kids’ ways into school in the first case to go to trial in the so-called “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal. A court later agreed that they could remain free while they pursued their appeals.

Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, was accused of paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit. Authorities alleged that Wilson, a former executive at Staples Inc., paid $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters’ ways into Harvard and Stanford.

The defense said the fathers believed their payments were legitimate donations to the schools, and pointed the finger at the corrupt admissions consultant at the center of the scheme: Rick Singer.

The three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit said the trial judge was wrong in instructing the jury that admissions slot constitutes “property” of the universities under the mail and wire fraud law. The judges found that the government also failed to prove that the parents agreed to join the “overarching conspiracy among Singer and his clients.”

Wilson said in an emailed statement last month that the appeals court’s decision proves his innocence, and that the donations he made to the athletic programs “were part of a legal system setup by these schools that does not guarantee admissions.”

The appeal court’s “ruling confirms what we’ve always argued — John Wilson’s children were all qualified for admission to these schools on their own athletic and academic merits, and none of his money went to enrich any coach,” Wilson’s attorney, Noel Francisco, said in an email Thursday.

Brian Kelly, an attorney for Abdelaziz, said in a text message that his client “looks forward to putting this case behind him” and is “enormously grateful for his family and friends who supported him throughout this four year ordeal.”

Prosecutors ultimately convicted more than 50 people — including prominent businesspeople, celebrities and other wealthy parents — in the scandal that exposed a scheme led by Singer to get undeserving kids into top schools with rigged test scores or bogus athletic credentials. Dozens of parents pleaded guilty, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

A spokesperson for the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office said they are “deeply proud” of the team who brought the cases and “the lasting and far-reaching impact these prosecutions have had.”

“From the outset, this case has stood for the principle that we do not have a two-tiered system of justice in this country and that everyone — regardless of wealth, power or fame — must operate under the same set of rules. These prosecutions have reaffirmed that principle,” Christina DiIorio-Sterling said in an email.

United States News

FILE - A version of a proposed Mississippi Senate redistricting map is displayed on a computer moni...

Associated Press

Mississippi must move quickly on a court-ordered redistricting, say voting rights attorneys

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi should work quickly to fulfill the court-ordered redrawing of some legislative districts to ensure more equitable representation for Black residents, attorneys for voting rights groups said in a new court filing Friday. The attorneys also said it’s important to hold special elections in the reconfigured state House and Senate districts […]

3 minutes ago

Associated Press

A US judge is reining in the use of strip searches amid a police scandal in Louisiana’s capital city

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The use of strip searches by police in Louisiana’s capital city was reined in Friday by a federal judge who said the policy under which Baton Rouge officers perform such searches on people who haven’t been arrested is “unconstitutional on its face.” U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s order came in litigation […]

20 minutes ago

FILE - Police tape blocks the boarded-up residence of Timothy Haslett on Oct. 10, 2022, in Excelsio...

Associated Press

One woman escaped a ‘dungeon’ beneath a Missouri home, another was killed. Here’s a look at the case

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri man facing trial on kidnapping and sexual assault charges after a woman said she escaped weeks in his captivity was arraigned Friday on a new charge of murder. Authorities say they linked him to the remains of a woman found in a barrel by the Missouri River. The case […]

35 minutes ago

Associated Press

375-pound loggerhead sea turtle returns to Atlantic Ocean after 3 months of rehab in Florida

COCOA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A 375-pound (170-kilogram) sea turtle has been released back into the Atlantic Ocean after three months of rehabilitation in Florida. Officials with the Brevard Zoo released a male loggerhead named Bubba Wednesday afternoon in Cocoa Beach. Biologists with Inwater Research found Bubba in St. Lucie County on April 10, officials […]

48 minutes ago

FILE - Brian Steven Smith watches proceedings during the opening day of his double murder trial, Tu...

Associated Press

Man gets 226-year prison sentences for killing 2 Alaska Native women. He filmed the torture of one

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — A man who killed two Alaska Native women and was heard while videotaping the torture death of one say that in his movies “everybody always dies” was sentenced Friday to 226 years in prison. Brian Steven Smith received 99-year sentences each for the deaths of Kathleen Henry, 30, and Veronica Abouchuk, […]

1 hour ago

This combination of photos shows talk show hosts, from left, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Me...

Associated Press

Late-night comics have long been relentless in skewering Donald Trump. Now it’s Joe Biden’s turn

NEW YORK (AP) — Stephen Colbert took a slug from his drink glass before his first monologue after President Joe Biden’s disastrous performance during his debate with Donald Trump. This was going to be hard. But then the CBS “Late Show” host dove right into jokes that were impossible for any political satirist to resist. […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Prosecutors drop Varsity Blues charges against 2 parents after appeals court ruling