The trial of two wealthy parents charged in connection with the Varsity Blues college admissions cheating scandal resumed Monday, with jurors hearing testimony from a former assistant to William “Rick” Singer, the scheme’s admitted mastermind.
Mikaela Sanford, 35, the former assistant, took the stand in US District Court in Boston, where defendants Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas, and John B. Wilson, 62, of Lynnfield, are on trial for allegedly paying Singer bribes to get their children into selective schools as phony sports recruits.
Sanford confirmed, under direct examination by prosecutors, that she wrote an e-mail to one of Singer’s business associates in September 2013 indicating that Singer wanted the associate to “put together an athletic profile” for two students, including Johnny Wilson, the son of John Wilson.
Prosecutors contend the elder Wilson paid 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.
The associate, records show, said in response to Sanford’s e-mail that he’d never “done this” for Singer previously, and Sanford had replied, “I found a template online that I think can give you an idea as to how the profile should look.”
Asked Monday by Assistant US Attorney Kristen A. Kearney how Sanford determined the right look for an athletic profile, Sanford testified, “I Googled it.”
She also testified about a December 2017 e-mail correspondence between her, Singer, Abdelaziz, and Abdelaziz’s daughter Sabrina, as well as another one of Singer’s employees. In that correspondence, Abdelaziz referenced how Singer had mentioned that Sabrina should discuss her love for playing basketball in an application essay to USC.
Sabrina later submitted an essay that said in part, “the basketball court is like my art studio,” a line Sanford read from the witness stand Monday. A former high school classmate of Sabrina’s testified last week that Sabrina never made the varsity team and wasn’t ever the starting point guard or captain, as she’d indicated on her USC application.
Lawyers for Abdelaziz, whom prosecutors allege paid Singer $300,000 to help Sabrina get into USC as a fake hoopster, and Wilson contend their clients thought their payments to Singer were legitimate donations.
“You never had a conversation with Mr. Abdelaziz where you told him ‘I’m putting fake awards on Sabrina’s application, did you?” asked Brian T. Kelly, a lawyer for Abdelaziz, during cross examination Monday.
“If you’re referring to like a phone call or like a text message exchange, I’ve never had that communication with him,” Sanford said.
Abdelaziz and Wilson are two of the dozens of people charged in connection with the scheme, in which prosecutors say well-heeled parents paid Singer bribes to get their children into selective schools as fake sports recruits, or by facilitating cheating on their SAT and ACT scores.
Authorities say Singer funneled some of the cash to corrupt coaches and others in on the scam.
At one point during her testimony Monday, Sanford told jurors she took courses for some of the high school students whose families worked with Singer, though not for any of Abdelaziz’s or Wilson’s children.
Sanford said that when Singer first asked her to take the courses several months after she began working for him in 2013, “the words that came out of my mouth were, ‘I don’t think I can get an A.’ And he said that was fine.”
“Would it be fair to say that the only fraudulent activity you were involved in was the taking the classes for about a dozen people, correct?” asked Michael Kendall, a lawyer for Wilson, during cross examination.
“Yes,” Sanford replied after a pause.
Sanford pleaded guilty in October 2020 to one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering in connection with the probe, and she testified Monday under terms of a plea deal with prosecutors. She’s awaiting sentencing, as is Singer, who’s also pleaded guilty to related charges.