William McGlashan Jr., a high-powered Silicon Valley investor accused of illegally scheming to get his son into college, had a request.
The magistrate judge had ordered that McGlashan, along with more than a dozen other wealthy parents implicated in the college admissions scandal, not leave the country except for business. But in Boston’s federal court Friday, McGlashan’s lawyer asked the judge to make an exception so McGlashan could go on a long-planned family vacation to Mexico.
Assistant US Attorney Eric Rosen was not sympathetic. McGlashan had other suitable vacation options within the United States, he said.
“He has a home in Big Sky, Mont., worth $12 million,” Rosen said. “He has a home in Truckee, Calif., that is also worth a lot of money.”
Rosen’s reference to McGlashan’s real estate portfolio was a pointed reminder of the extraordinary wealth enjoyed by the 15 parents who filed through the courthouse Friday for their initial appearances in the high-profile case that accuses them of trying to boost their children’s chances of getting into elite schools by paying fake test-takers or falsely certifying their children as top-level athletes.
They all stand accused of one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for allegedly participating in a scheme to pay a college consultant, William “Rick Singer, to create fake profiles for their children as athletic recruits, facilitate cheating on SAT and ACT exams, or outright bribe college coaches.
McGlashan, 55, is accused of paying $50,000 to have his son’s ACT admission test score doctored and discussing another $250,000 payment to have a fake athletic profile created for submission to the University of Southern California.
He followed defendants like Elisabeth Kimmel, 54, who amassed a fortune of $325 million in 2017 when she sold a slew of television and radio stations her family once owned; Agustin Huneeus Jr., the 53-year-old owner of vineyards in Napa Valley; and Gamal Abdelaziz, 62, the former president and chief operating officer of Wynn Resorts Development. Abdelaziz, who is accused of paying Singer $300,000 to create a fake profile for his daughter to secure her admission to USC as a basketball recruit, played a key role in the development of a hotel and casino in Everett.
None of the defendants spoke to reporters after their proceedings in court, where they were told not to keep weapons in their homes, and to avoid marijuana use and talking about the case with any family members because they may be called as witnesses at trial.
The defendants showed little emotion in the courtroom and answered Federal Magistrate Judge Mary Page Kelley when she asked them if they understood their rights and conditions of release.
Some defendants tried to downplay their wealth. Thomas H. Bienert Jr., one of the defense attorneys, said the media had been misrepresenting his client, Michelle Janavs, the 48-year-old heiress to the Hot Pockets fortune. Janavs allegedly paid $100,000 to falsify her daughter’s ACT exam score and get her into USC as a volleyball recruit, even though she did not play the sport competitively.
“My client has been a homemaker and volunteer for the last 20 years and she has not been an executive at a food company,” said Bienert, as Janavs, whose family owns Chef America, sat ramrod straight at the defense table.
Abdelaziz asked if he could be allowed to travel internationally for work, specifically a business trip to Mexico in April, a request the prosecution opposed.
“We want to point out to your honor that he faces a substantial amount of time in this case,” said Assistant US Attorney Justin O’Connell, noting that under federal sentencing guidelines Abdelaziz could be sentenced to 30 to 37 months if convicted, far more than the 21 months other defendants could receive. He would face a stiffer penalty because of the amount of his alleged bribe.
“The weight of the evidence against Mr. Abdelaziz is quite strong” O’Connell said.
Abdelaziz’s lawyer, Brian T. Kelly, scoffed at that argument, saying the evidence is based on Singer, who admitted to obstruction of justice and is now a government informant.
Kelly described Singer as “deeply compromised.”
“This is not a strong case,” Kelly said. Abdelaziz is “not running from this case. He intends to fight this case.”
Kelley approved the request but cautioned Abdelaziz to keep his work travel limited. He nodded gratefully.
McGlashan’s lawyer, Jack Pirozzolo, was less successful arguing that his client be allowed to leave the country.
The point of the bail statute is “really all about risk of flight,” he said. “It’s not meant to be punitive. There is really no other effect of this denial of the ability to go on this vacation other than punitive.”
“I don’t think the risk of flight is zero,” she said. “I’m sorry to disappoint the family, but I’m not going to allow the vacation.”
Other defendants who appeared Friday include: I-Hsin “Joey” Chen 64, of Newport Beach, Calif., who operates a warehousing provider for the shipping industry; Robert Flaxman, 62, of Laguna Beach, Calif., a real estate developer; Diane Blake, 55, of San Francisco, an executive at a retail merchandising firm, and her husband Todd Blake, 53, an entrepreneur and investor; Marjorie Klapper, 50, of Menlo Park, Calif., the co-owner of a jewelry business; Marci Palatella, 63, of Healdsburg, Calif., CEO of a liquor distribution company; Robert Zangrillo, 52, of Miami, founder and CEO of a private investment firm; Gregory Abbott, 68, a food and beverage packaging titan from Manhattan and Aspen, Colo., and his wife, Marcia Abbott, 59; and Stephen Semprevivo, an executive at Cydcor, a company in Agoura Hills, Calif., which provides outsourced sales services.
Huneeus, the vintner, allegedly paid Singer to facilitate cheating on his daughter’s SAT and to have her falsely certified as a water polo recruit at USC, which extended a conditional acceptance letter to her in November 2018, records show.
But during the process, Huneeus voiced concern about the deal coming to light, records show. During one call, Huneeus asked Singer, “And is there any risk that this thing blows up in my face?”
Singer replied, “Hasn’t in 24 years.”