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Lynnfield man convicted in ‘Varsity Blues’ college-admissions scandal

John Wilson and his wife, Leslie, arrive at federal court Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in Boston. (AP)

LYNNFIELD — John Wilson, a Lynnfield resident, was found guilty Friday after nearly 10 hours of deliberation in the “Varsity Blues” case, which exposed a scheme to get unqualified applicants into college by falsely portraying them as star athletes.

Wilson, 62, and Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas, Nev., were both convicted of fraud and bribery-conspiracy charges on Friday afternoon in federal court. Wilson was also convicted of additional charges of bribery, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return.

The co-defendants were the first parents to go to trial in the college-admissions scheme, which has been dubbed the “Varsity Blues” case.

Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private-equity firm and is a former Staples executive, was accused of paying $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water-polo recruit and an additional $1.5 million to buy his twin daughters’ acceptances into Harvard and Stanford universities as purported sailing recruits. 

In 2017, Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, agreed to pay Rick Singer — the purported mastermind of the college-admissions scandal — $300,000 to facilitate the admission of his daughter to USC as a basketball recruit, despite the fact that she had not made her high school varsity team and did not play basketball at all during her junior and senior years in high school. In October of 2017, his daughter was admitted to USC as a basketball recruit and was formally accepted to the school in March of 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. 

Sentencing has been scheduled for Feb. 16, 2022 for Abdelaziz and Feb. 17, 2022 for Wilson. Singer previously pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. 

“What they did was an affront to hardworking students and parents, but the verdict today proves that even these defendants — powerful and privileged people — are not above the law,” Acting Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Mendell told reporters.

Lawyers argued that Wilson and Abdelaziz believed their payments were legitimate donations and pointed the finger at the admissions consultant Singer. The parents insisted they had no idea that Singer was using their money as bribes and was falsifying or exaggerating athletic credentials on behalf of their kids.

“Mr. Singer never said the donation was a bribe. He said exactly the opposite. It was an accepted fundraising program,” Wilson’s attorney, Michael Kendall, said during opening statements in September. 

Abdelaziz’s lawyer told reporters outside the courthouse on Friday that he intends to appeal.

At the center of the case was a series of secretly-recorded phone calls between Singer and the parents, which prosecutors said proved Abdelaziz and Wilson were in on the scheme. The FBI wiretapped Singer’s calls and then convinced the admissions consultant to begin cooperating with investigators in 2018 in the hopes of getting a lighter sentence.

In one call, Wilson asked Singer which sports “would be best” for his twin daughters. Singer responded that it didn’t matter and that he would “make them a sailor or something” because Wilson lives on Cape Cod.

Wilson joked and asked: “Is there a two-for-one special? If you got twins?”

Thirty-three other parents have pleaded guilty in the case, including famous TV actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, as well as Loughlin’s fashion-designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli. Involved parents have so far received punishments ranging from probation to nine months in prison.

Cases for three other parents are expected to go to trial in January. 

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. 

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