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Court Voids Two Convictions in 'Varsity Blues' Admissions Case

A federal appeals court reversed convictions for two parents who were found guilty of fraud in the Varsity Blues college-admissions cheating case, highlighting the contentious legal claims underpinning the charges. In 2021, a A jury found Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud and bribery involving a school that receives federal funds, the University of Southern California. Prosecutors alleged they had worked with corrupt college counselor William “Rick” Singer to make illicit payments and pretend their children were star athletes to secure spots for them at the school. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit cleared Abdelaziz entirely, and approved only one tax fraud charge against Wilson, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The court ruling highlights some of the biggest challenges prosecutors faced in this sprawling criminal case: Is a college admissions slot property that can be stolen? If so, who is the victim? What makes for a conspiracy? Federal prosecutors charged more than 50 parents, coaches and others in 2019, alleging that they took part in a complex fraud and bribery scheme intended to eliminate the uncertainty attached to applying to selective colleges. Singer admitted to working with parents and others to rig teens’ SAT and ACT scores, and to bribing coaches at schools including USC, Stanford and Yale to present applicants fraudulently as recruited athletes, virtually guaranteeing they would get in. Singer pleaded guilty to four felony charges and was sentenced to 3½ years in prison. The appeals court dismissed the government’s claim that college-admissions spots should be categorically considered property that could be stolen. Most of those charged in the Varsity Blues case pleaded guilty and bypassed a trial, and the outcome for only one defendant remains uncertain.


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