A U.S. federal appeals court on Wednesday largely overturned the convictions of two wealthy fathers accused of participating in a vast college admissions fraud by conspiring to pay bribes so their children could attend top universities.
The Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of private equity executive John Wilson and former casino executive Gamal Aziz, the first two people to face trial of the dozens charged in the sprawling “Operation Varsity Blues” probe.
All of Aziz’s convictions were set aside, and all but one of Wilson’s convictions were aside. The court upheld Wilson’s conviction for filing a false tax return.
Prosecutors alleged that the two fathers and other parents conspired with the scheme’s mastermind, California admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, to rig college entrance exams and secure admission of students as fake athletic recruits through bribery.
The years-long investigation exposed inequalities in higher education and resulted in guilty pleas from more than 50 people, including actors Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, two of the many wealthy parents Singer counted as clients.
Singer was sentenced in January to 3-1/2 years in prison.
Wilson and Aziz were the first to go to trial in 2021. A former University of Southern California water polo coach convicted in the second trial later won a new trial, and another parent was acquitted in the third trial.
Prosecutors alleged that Aziz — a former Wynn Resorts Ltd executive also known as Gamal Abdelaziz — in 2018 paid $300,000 to secure his daughter’s admission to USC as a basketball recruit.
Prosecutors said Wilson paid $220,000 in 2014 to have his son falsely designated a USC water polo recruit and later in 2018 paid another $1 million to try to secure spots for his twin daughters at Stanford and Harvard universities.
Aziz and Wilson were sentenced in February 2022 to 12 months and 15 months in prison, respectively.