A federal prosecutor urged jurors during closing arguments Wednesday to focus on the words of two parents who were secretly recorded by the FBI when they begin their deliberations in the first trial in the nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.
“I’ll make them a sailor or something because of where you live,” William “Rick” Singer, the confessed architect of the scheme, told John B. Wilson during a September 2018 call as they discussed the possibility of getting Wilson’s daughters into top-tier colleges as purported athletic recruits — for a price.
Wilson, 62, who has homes in Lynnfield and Hyannis Port, laughed and asked if he could get a “two-for-one special” for the twins.
Assistant US Attorney Stephen Frank replayed portions of that call, and several others, in his summation against Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas, who are accused of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud to get their children into top-tier colleges.
The 2018 call between Singer and Wilson, recorded a week before Singer was confronted by the FBI and began cooperating with prosecutors, shows the pair were “caught red-handed scheming to get Wilson’s two daughters into some of the finest universities in the country as recruited athletes in exchange for money,” Frank said.
Pointing to other calls, emails, and witness testimony during the three-week trial in federal court in Boston, Frank said, “this was not John Wilson’s first time doing a dirty deal to get his kids into college through lies and bribery, the same deal Gamal Abdelaziz did to get his daughter into USC.”
Wilson, who founded Hyannis Port Capital, a real estate investment firm, is accused of paying Singer $220,000 in 2014 to have his son admitted to the University of Southern California as a purported water polo recruit and $1 million in 2018 to have his twin daughters designated as recruits to Stanford and Harvard universities for sports they didn’t play.
Abdelaziz, a former Wynn Resorts executive, is accused of paying Singer $300,000 in 2018 to have his daughter admitted to USC as a fake basketball recruit, even though she didn’t make her high school varsity team.
Frank said Singer didn’t tell his clients the truth about where their money went. For example, Singer didn’t tell Wilson that although some of his $220,000 donation went to the water polo team, he kept some for himself.
“There is no honor among thieves,” Frank said.
Whether the money went to a corrupt college insider or their program, “you know, and the defendants knew, what it was for,” Frank told jurors.
“In plain English, we call that a bribe, but in legal terms, it has a fancy Latin name: quid pro quo,” Frank said. “This in exchange for that.”
But defense lawyers countered that Singer was a master con man who convinced Wilson and Abdelaziz they were making legitimate contributions to the schools. At the FBI’s request, Singer recorded conversations with Wilson, Abdelaziz, and other parents to get them to incriminate themselves. He pleaded guilty to charges and is awaiting sentencing. Prosecutors did not call him to the stand but played the recordings at trial.
Michael Kendall, a lawyer who represents Wilson, said his client believed he made legitimate contributions and that there was no evidence Wilson knew Singer was bribing people.
“John is not part of Singer’s con,” Kendall said. “John is Rick Singer’s victim.”
Wilson hired Singer to help his son Johnny because Singer was a well-respected college consultant, Kendall said. He disputed prosecutors’ claim that Johnny was a fake water polo recruit, citing testimony that he played in high school and attended practices his freshman year at USC.
He said Wilson never saw the fake athletic profile that Singer had submitted to USC to help Wilson’s son get admitted.
Kendall urged jurors to pay particular attention to what Wilson said during his recorded calls with Singer.
Unlike conversations with other parents in which Singer explicitly described the bribery scheme, Singer was vague in his calls with Wilson because he knew he wouldn’t agree to pay bribes, Kendall said.
“Good faith is a complete defense to every one of these charges,” Kendall said. “Rick Singer manipulated and deceived John for eight years.”
Abdelaziz’s lawyer, Brian T. Kelly, said his client is innocent.
“A quid pro quo is not illegal unless there is corrupt intent,” Kelly said. “There’s no proof that Mr. Abdelaziz had a specific intent to join some nationwide conspiracy. There simply isn’t.”
Kelly said prosecutors failed to prove their case, which was built on two conversations Singer had with Abdelaziz when he was cooperating with the FBI and trying to get him to incriminate himself.
“All they’ve got is these two setup tapes where they’re trying to frame the guy,” Kelly said.
Singer saw Abdelaziz as “an easy mark,” Kelly said, and told him a donation to USC might help his daughter be accepted.
“He’s proud of his daughter,” said Kelly, adding that it wasn’t unreasonable for Abdelaziz to tell Singer she played basketball because she had been on her high school junior varsity team. “I’m not saying she was the next coming of LeBron, that’s not what he thought.”
Kelly said there was no proof that Abdelaziz had ever seen or replied to an email Singer had sent him with his daughter’s fake athletic profile attached.
Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberations Thursday.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.