BOSTON (AP) — Two men convicted of buying their children their way to elite universities are staying out of jail while they appeal their cases under the college admissions bribery program, a Boston judge has said ordered on Thursday.
Also on Thursday, another judge ruled that a woman who worked for the program’s mastermind and took online courses for students to improve her chances of admission will not be behind bars.
John Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, and Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, were found guilty last year in the first case to go to court in an admissions trial involving wealthy parents and universities.
Dozens of wealthy parents and athletic trainers have pleaded guilty to the case brought in 2019. They include television actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.
Wilson was sentenced to 15 months in prison and Abdelaziz to one year. Her sentences are the longest in the case to date.
US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton ruled that the two can remain free on bail pending an appeal of their convictions. His decision came shortly after prosecutors dropped their opposition to the defense’s offer to keep her in jail while she grappled with her case.
Abdelaziz, from Las Vegas, was accused of paying $300,000 to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit, even though she didn’t even make her high school’s collegiate team. Wilson, who runs a private equity firm in Massachusetts, was accused of paying $220,000 to have his son named a USC water polo recruit and another $1 million to set the path for his twin daughters Buy Harvard and Stanford.
Lawyers for Wilson and Abdelaziz have argued that their clients believed they were making legitimate donations and that the admissions consultant at the center of the scandal, Rick Singer, called his so-called “side door” scheme legitimate. Wilson’s attorneys attack several aspects of the trial, including the judge’s refusal to show the jury evidence they say “USC routinely disguises donor children as athletic recruits.”
Noel Francisco, the former US Attorney General whom Wilson hired to appeal his case, welcomed the judge’s decision Thursday.
“The fact is, John’s case is different from others in the varsity blues scandal. His children qualified for admission on their own merit, and no money from him was intended to enrich any person – instead it was intended for the schools and their sports programs,” Francisco said in an emailed statement.
Emails were sent to Abdelaziz’s lawyers for comment.
Later Thursday, another federal judge in Boston sentenced Mikaela Sanford, a former associate of Singer, to time already served.
Prosecutors say shortly after Sanford accepted the job at Singer, she began taking undergraduate high school and college courses to improve her grade point averages in exchange for money from Singer. According to prosecutors, she received $1,250 for high school and $2,500 for college courses.
Among other things, Sanford has also given fake awards to students’ college applications and changed the race or ethnicity of students on applications to increase their chances of getting into school, prosecutors said.
In seeking a served sentence, prosecutors found in court documents that “everything she did was at Singer’s direction” and that she accepted responsibility for her actions.
Singer, who began working with investigators in 2018 in hopes of a lighter sentence, has yet to be sentenced.
Sanford told US District Judge Indira Talwani during her sentencing that she was sorry for what she called “a terrible misjudgment and poor decision-making.”
“I can guarantee, Your Honor, that I am so much more than that, so much better than that,” she said.
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