Sun, 24 Oct 2021

BOSTON, Massachusetts: A jury in Boston has convicted ex-casino chief Gamal Aziz and private equity firm founder John Wilson of bribery and fraud, after they paid bribes to have their children admitted to elite universities by falsely registering them as top athletes.

Both wealthy fathers face up to 20 years in jail, with their sentencing scheduled for February.

The verdict is the first trial conviction in the "Operation Varsity Blues" scandal involving more than 50 parents, coaches and school administrators.

Others implicated, including celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, have pleaded guilty rather than stand trial.

Aziz is accused by federal prosecutors of paying $300,000 in 2018 to ensure that his daughter was admitted by the University of Southern California using a basketball scholarship, even though she failed to become a member of her high school basketball team.

Wilson is said to have paid $220,000 in 2014 to ensure his son was admitted to USC as a water polo player. While officials admitted he played the sport, he was not proficient enough to be accepted onto the team.

Wilson also attempted to have his twin daughters admitted to Stanford and Harvard by paying $1.5 million.

Both men argued that they were taken advantage of by the alleged mastermind of the scheme, William Singer, adding they were unaware the money they paid would be used for bribes.

Singer, who is cooperating with authorities and has yet to stand trial, allegedly told parents he could secure admissions for their children through a "side door" for athletes at universities.

Aziz and Wilson are both expected to appeal their convictions.

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