Capping the opening week of testimony in the first trial in the national college admissions scandal, prosecutors on Friday detailed perhaps the most brazen aspect of the sprawling bribery scheme: how students were given fake resumes to justify their admission as athletic recruits.
Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas, a former Wynn Resorts executive, is charged with paying $300,000 to the architect of the conspiracy, California college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, to help his daughter, Sabrina, get accepted to the University of Southern California as a basketball player even though she had failed to make her high school varsity team.
Rachel Qu Sih, a 21-year-old senior at Wellesley College, told jurors that she and Sabrina Abdelaziz were classmates at the Hong Kong International School and played basketball together. But Sabrina played for only two years on the junior varsity team and was cut after failing to make varsity, Sih testified.
Assistant US Attorney Ian Stearns showed Sih an athletic profile of Sabrina that had been submitted to USC in 2017, claiming she was a 5-foot, 10-inch starting point guard, and captain of the high school girls basketball team.
“Untrue,” Sih said. Sabrina hadn’t played in any of the international tournaments cited on her profile, and some of the basketball action photos presented as Sabrina were actually of other players, she said.
The detailed depiction of the doctored resume distilled the strategy prosecutors have pursued over the trial’s first four days in Boston’s federal courthouse. By playing recorded conversations of parents with Singer, they have sought to portray them as willing accomplices in the bribery scheme, agreeing to spend lavish sums to secure their children admission to top schools.
Lawyers for the two parents on trial, meanwhile, have suggested that Singer acted on his own, allowing the parents to believe their donations were legitimate. On Friday, Abdelaziz’s lawyers said that Singer had created the fake athletic profile without his knowledge.
Abdelaziz is on trial with John B. Wilson, 62, of Lynnfield, founder of Hyannis Port Capital, a real estate investment firm, who is accused of paying Singer more than $1.7 million between 2014 and 2018 to get his children into USC, Harvard University, and Stanford University as fake athletic recruits.
Fifty-seven people have been charged in the Varsity Blues case since March 2019. Forty-six have pleaded guilty, including 33 parents, and coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, the University of California Los Angeles, and the University of Texas. One parent was pardoned by former president Donald Trump, and a former tennis coach has signed a plea agreement.
Some are awaiting sentencing, but most, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, have already served time. Sentences have ranged from probation to nine months in prison.
In recent days, prosecutors played recordings the FBI gathered while tapping Singer’s phone between June and September 2018, when investigators confronted him. After that, he began cooperating with prosecutors and consensually recorded calls for months, getting parents to incriminate themselves.
Some of those recordings are expected to be played when the trial resumes next week.
During opening statements, prosecutors said they will not call Singer as a witness but offered no explanation. On Friday, Abdelaziz’s lawyer, Brian T. Kelly, questioned his absence as FBI special agent Keith Brown testified about Singer’s recorded calls and e-mails he had exchanged with parents.
“Are you aware whether Singer is alive or not?” Kelly asked.
“I have no reason to believe he is not,” Brown said.
Kelly asked if Singer had been in Boston recently, and Brown said he believed he was.
Jurors were shown e-mails that Singer traded with Abdelaziz, seeking photos of his daughter to submit to USC with her athletic profile.
A July 2017 e-mail from Singer to Abdelaziz included an attachment with Abdelaziz’s daughter’s falsified athletic profile, but Brown testified under cross-examination that there was no evidence that Abdelaziz had ever responded to it or opened the attachment. Singer had sent it to an e-mail address that Abdelaziz no longer used.
Wilson’s lawyer, Michael Kendall, grilled the agent about a recording, played for jurors on Wednesday, of a September 2018 conversation between Singer and Wilson about college prospects and preparation for his twin daughters, who were high school juniors.
Kendall said Singer was trying to lull Wilson into believing he knew what scores, grades, athletic ability, and donations were required to get into the top colleges.
During the call, Singer boasted that he was going to meet the president of Harvard the following week “because the president wants to do a deal with me because he found out that I’ve already got four already in, without his help, so he’s like, how ‘bout — why would you go to somebody else if you could come to me?”
Kendall said Singer’s claim about Harvard’s president “was a flat out lie.”
Brown agreed there was no evidence of any such meeting. “I have no basis to believe that’s true,” he said.
Prosecutors allege that Wilson paid Singer $220,000 in 2014 to have the USC water polo coach, Jovan Vavic, designate his son as a recruit; and $1.5 million in 2018 to have his twin daughters admitted to Harvard and Stanford as fake sailing recruits. Vavic has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial, while Stanford’s former sailing coach, John Vandemoer, pleaded guilty to conspiring with Singer in exchange for donations to the sailing program.
Singer was already cooperating with the FBI when, as part of a ruse, he told Wilson he had secured his daughter admission to Harvard through a fictitious “senior women’s administrator.”
Earlier in the week, the jury heard a recording of a June 2018 call in which Singer detailed his schemes to Gordon Caplan, a former partner in a high-powered New York law firm, who was seeking help getting his daughter into college.
Singer told the lawyer he charged $250,000 to $500,000 for his admission scheme, and for an additional $75,000 could have a proctor inflate his daughter’s SAT score. That scheme, he said, was “the home run of home runs.”
In another recorded call that August, Agustin Huneeus, a Napa Valley vineyard owner, asked Singer how he was going to get his daughter admitted to USC as a water polo recruit since “you understand that [she] is not worthy to be on that team.”
Singer, who was not yet cooperating with prosecutors, claimed that he had been working with Vavic for 12 years and had helped his children get into colleges.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.