The first trial in the college admissions bribery scandal opened Monday with defense attorneys seeking to portray the two parents accused of buying their kids’ way into school as victims of a conman who believed their payments were legitimate donations, reports the Associated Press. The trial in the “Operation Varsity Blues” case opened in Boston’s federal court more than two years after prosecutors arrested 50 parents, athletic coaches and others in a scheme that embroiled elite universities across the country. The trial is expected to last a few weeks.
Defense attorneys say that former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples and Gap Inc. executive John Wilson were assured by the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme that what they were doing was a perfectly legal practice to give children of wealthy parents a leg up in admissions. Abdelaziz is accused of paying $300,000 to the sham charity run by the scheme’s alleged mastermind, admissions consultant Rick Singer, to get his daughter into the University of Southern California (USC) as a basketball recruit even though she didn’t make it onto her high school’s varsity team. Wilson, the head of a Massachusetts private equity firm, is charge with paying $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters’ way into Harvard and Stanford. Prosecutors say the parents were aware their payments were designed to get their children into school as athletic recruits with fake or embellished credentials as part of Singer’s side-door scheme.