Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday after 11 days of testimony in the trial of two parents accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their children be admitted to elite colleges as fake athletic recruits.
US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton told jurors that lawyers for John B. Wilson, 62, of Lynnfield, and Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas, the first defendants to stand trial in the nationwide college admissions scandal, will call witnesses when the trial resumes Friday in federal court in Boston. Testimony is likely to conclude next week.
The last prosecution witness was an Internal Revenue Service agent who testified that Wilson, founder of Hyannis Port Capital, a real estate investment firm, paid $220,000 to a California college admissions consultant who orchestrated his son’s admission to the University of Southern California as a water polo recruit, then wrote it off as a business expense and charitable donation on his personal income taxes.
The agent, Colleen Ranahan, told jurors that Wilson was not entitled to the deductions he and his wife claimed on their 2014 joint return because they were personal expenses paid in exchange for something of value: their son’s admission to USC.
“No goods or services can be received” in exchange for a charitable contribution, Ranahan said.
Wilson earned more than $2 million in 2014 and after deductions paid more than $200,000 in taxes. Ranahan said that by her calculation Wilson would have owed an additional $88,546 in taxes without those improper deductions.
But Wilson’s lawyer, Michael Kendall, challenged Ranahan’s audit, saying Wilson believed the $220,000 he paid to William “Rick” Singer, the college admissions consultant who orchestrated the sprawling admissions scheme, was going directly to USC. He paid $100,000 to Singer’s charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, which was funneled directly to USC’s men’s water polo team, prosecutors said.
He paid another $100,000 to Singer’s for-profit college consulting company and $20,000 directly to Singer.
Kendall contended that Wilson, who received a thank you note from USC for his donation, was entitled to claim it as a charitable contribution, but Ranahan insisted that he wasn’t.
Prosecutors allege that Singer created the bogus charity to funnel payments to corrupt coaches and administrators. They allege Wilson knowingly paid Singer to have his son admitted in 2014 as a water polo recruit, a scheme Singer referred to as the “side door.”
He’s also accused of agreeing to pay $1.5 million in 2018 to try to help his twin daughters get admitted to Harvard University and Stanford University as fake sailing recruits.
Wilson is charged with filing a false tax return, bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit bribery related to a federal program.
Abdelaziz is accused of paying Singer $300,000 to get his daughter admitted to USC as a fake basketball recruit. He’s charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit bribery related to a federal program.
Prosecutors say that Singer funneled payments from wealthy clients to colleges and corrupt coaches and administrators to get their children into elite colleges. Fifty-seven people have been charged in the scheme since March 2019. Forty-six of those have pleaded guilty and one parent was pardoned by former president Donald Trump.
In other testimony Wednesday, Lauren George, an auditor in the US Attorney’s office, presented jurors with charts showing how money flowed from Singer’s company and charitable foundation to various universities, athletic programs, and coaches at Georgetown University, USC, UCLA, Yale University, and Stanford.
Between 2013 and 2019, $27.6 million was deposited into Singer’s charity, the vast majority of it from parents who were his clients, George testified. During that time, $20.6 million was withdrawn; approximately $6.5 million went to colleges or individuals associated with them, and more than $7 million went to businesses or ventures associated with Singer.
“How much of that went to charitable causes?” Assistant US Attorney Kristen Kearney asked.
“I would say very little,” George said.
Earlier in the trial, prosecutors showed jurors an e-mail Wilson sent to Singer in 2014, a day after his son was admitted to USC.
“Thanks again for making this happen!” it read. “Pls give me the invoice. What are the options for the payment? Can we make it for consulting or whatever ... so that I can pay it from the corporate account?”
Singer replied that he could make it for business consulting fees so that Wilson could “write off as an expense.” “Awesome,” Wilson replied.