Federal Appeals Court Overturns Fraud Convictions of Parents in College Admissions Scandal

Appeals court overturns fraud convictions of two parents involved in 'Operation Varsity Blues

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Appeals court overturns fraud convictions of two parents involved in ‘Operation Varsity Blues’

Two parents who were found guilty of paying bribes to get their children into elite universities as part of the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal had their fraud convictions overturned by a federal appeals court on Wednesday. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned all fraud convictions against Gamal Abdelaziz and all but one conviction of another parent, John Wilson. However, Wilson’s conviction on a charge of filing a false tax return was upheld.

In 2021, a jury in Boston’s federal court found the two parents guilty of buying their children’s way into school as athletic recruits. Abdelaziz was accused of paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit, despite her not even making it onto her high school’s varsity team. Meanwhile, Wilson, a former executive at Staples Inc., was accused of 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.

Lawyers for Wilson and Abdelaziz argued that their clients believed they were making legitimate donations and that the admissions consultant at the center of the scandal, William “Rick” Singer, pitched his so-called “side door” scheme as a lawful one. The appeals court agreed, stating that the trial judge was wrong in instructing the jury that the admissions slot constitutes “property” of the universities under the mail and wire fraud law. The judges also found that the government failed to prove that the parents agreed to join the “overarching conspiracy among Singer and his clients.”

The ringleader of the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, was sentenced in January 2022 to three and a half years in prison. Among the most high-profile parents who admitted to charges were “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who paid $500,000 in bribes to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as crew team recruits, even though neither of them played the sport. Loughlin served a two-month prison sentence, and Giannulli served a five-month sentence.

The recent overturning of fraud convictions against two parents involved in the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal has raised questions about the legality of college admissions practices and the role of wealthy donors in the admissions process. While the appeals court agreed with the defendant’s arguments that they believed they were making legitimate donations, the scandal sparked a broader conversation about the ethical implications of using money and influence to gain an unfair advantage in the highly competitive world of higher education.

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