Parents facing trial for admissions scandal

Exterior of Bovard Auditorium.
Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson were convicted by a federal jury of all charges in the first trial of the Operation Varsity Blues admissions scandal, the biggest college acceptance scam to be prosecuted in U.S. history. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan file photo)

In March 2019, more than 50 parents received federal charges for participating in Operation Varsity Blues, a criminal conspiracy to secure their children spots at prestigious universities, including USC, Yale and Georgetown. Shortly after the scandal went public, private college recruiter William “Rick” Singer admitted to organizing the scheme, which involved parents collectively paying more than $25 million in bribes to modify standardized test scores and have their children designated as athletic recruits. 

In the two years since the scandal broke and started national conversations about wealth, privilege and access to higher education, dozens of the defendants pleaded guilty to committing bribery and fraud. As of October 2021, 32 received their sentencing from the District of Massachusetts. 

The Daily Trojan compiled a list of some of the USC-involved parents, their most recent federal charges, court appearances, verdicts and post-release. 

Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson 

A federal jury convicted Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson of all charges in the first trial of the admissions scandal Oct. 8. Both Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, attempted to pay to have their children accepted to the University as fake sports recruits. 

Jeffrey Bizzack 

Solana Beach entrepreneur Jeffrey Bizzack paid $250,000 to admit his son into USC. Bizzack, one of pro surfer Kelly Slater’s former business partners, conspired with ex-USC women’s soccer coach Laura Janke to falsely portray his son as a nationally-ranked volleyball player. In 2019, Bizzack turned himself into authorities and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. Shortly after, Bizzack received a two-month prison sentence and resigned from his company’s board. 

Mossimo Giannulli and Lori Loughlin

Fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli and Fuller House actress Lori Loughlin, his wife, paid $500,000 for their daughters Olivia Jade and Isabella Rose admission to the University as fake rowing team recruits. In 2020, Loughlin served two months in prison and Giannulli served five. 

After her parents’ conviction, Olivia Jade appeared on Red Table Talk and said she wanted “to show [she’s] grown.” In 2021, Jade also competed on the reality TV show “Dancing with the Stars.” When the scandal broke, Isabella Rose reduced her presence on social media and took a break from acting. 

Felicity Huffman

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman spent 12 days in federal prison after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Huffman’s husband, actor William H. Macy, was not charged in the case. 

Huffman’s daughter, Sofia, made an appearance in the CBS All Access reboot of “The Twilight Zone” in 2020. Huffman is also set to work as executive producer of a new ABC comedy show. 

Douglas M. Hodge and Michelle Janavs

Former investment-management CEO Douglas M. Hodge paid $525,000 to have his son and daughter admitted to USC. In Feb. 2020, Hodge published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, writing that he wished he’d “never met Rick Singer.”

Michelle Janavs, a former executive of Chef America Inc. and the heiress to the Hot Pocket fortune, also facilitated her daughter’s admission to USC as a fake beach volleyball recruit. After her early release from prison in October 2020, Janavs returned to living in Newport Coast, Calif. 

When the admissions scandal came to light, Hodge and Janavs pleaded guilty to charges of fraud and bribery. Both parents also resigned from the Sage Hill School’s board of trustees. In February 2020, Hodge made headlines for receiving nine months in prison — which, to date, is the longest sentence of all the Varsity Blues parents who’d pleaded guilty in court.

Three members of the USC Rowing team participate in the sport.
The USC Rowing team was one of the many athletic teams used by organizer William “Rick” Singer to help unqualified students gain acceptances to the University. (Photo courtesy of USC Athletics)

Agustin Huneeus Jr. 

Agustin Huneeus, a Napa Valley winery owner, paid $300,000 for his daughter’s admission to USC. Because Huneeus didn’t have pictures of his daughter playing water polo, he sent admissions officers a photo of a stranger. In early 2019, Huneeus resigned as Chief Executive of Huneeus Vinters, and his father, Agustin Huneeus Sr., returned to the business to serve in his son’s place. 

Elisabeth Kimmel

Former KFMB Stations owner Elisabeth Kimmel paid $250,000 to have her son accepted as a pole vault recruit. After her arrest, Kimmel relocated to Las Vegas. She’s set to face sentencing in December 2021.

Toby MacFarlane

Toby MacFarlane, a USC alumnus and California title insurance executive, paid $450,000 to gain his daughter and son admission to his alma mater as fake soccer and basketball recruits, respectively. Although he received six months in prison, a federal judge released MacFarlane nearly three months early because of the pandemic. 

Marci Palatella

Marci Palatella, the CEO of International Beverage, and Lou Palatella, former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Lou Palatella, co-own Preservation Distillery in Bardstown, Ky. According to the District of Massachusetts’s United States Attorney’s Office, Marci paid more than $500,000 for her son’s admission to the University as a fake recruit for the football team. Palatella was not only successful in getting her son accepted to USC, but also wrote off her bribe payments as charitable donations on her tax returns. In 2021, she became the 33rd parent to plead guilty in the Varsity Blues scandal. 

Devin Sloane

Devin Sloane, a water treatment company owner, paid $250,000 to have his son admitted to USC as a “water polo player.” Sloane had his son pose for pictures in a swim cap and a Speedo in the family’s backyard pool to add to his fake athletic profile. In September 2019, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced Sloane to four months in prison. 

Homayoun Zadeh

When Homayoun Zadeh worked as a periodontist and tenured associate professor at the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, he was caught conspiring with Singer and Janke to get his daughter a spot at the school as a lacrosse recruit. The Department of Justice reported Zadeh paid $100,000 in bribes to ex-coach Janke. After news of the scandal broke, Zadeh left his position at the University March 14, 2019. 

Robert Zangrillo

Miami real estate developer Robert Zangrillo was arrested in March 2019 under accusations of paying $250,000 to have his daughter transferred to the University as a rowing recruit. In January 2021 — nine months before he was set to stand trial — Zangrillo received a pardon from former President Donald Trump. 

In a press release explaining Trump’s decision, the White House wrote that Zangrillo was “a well-respected business leader and philanthropist.” The White House also stated that Zangrillo’s “daughter did not have others take standardized tests for her and she is currently earning a 3.9 GPA at the University of Southern California.” 

In the press release announcing Zangrillo’s pardon, the White House listed Tom Barrack, a California-based real estate investor who was on the University’s board of trustees, as a supporter of President Trump’s decision. In January, a spokesperson for Barrack denied that the trustee had any involvement in the pardon. 

In July 2021, Barrack, who chaired Trump’s inaugural committee, voluntarily resigned from his Board of Trustee position after he was arrested on charges of acting as an agent for the Middle East. 

Bill McGlashan

Before the Varsity Blues scandal, Bill McGlashan, a former executive for a private equity firm based in the Bay Area, was well-known for his philanthropy. In 2016, he co-founded the Rise Fund with Irish rock star Bono and eBay Inc. billionaire Jeff Skoll to work towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. In May 2021, McGlashan was sentenced to three months in prison after pleading guilty to paying $50,000 to alter his eldest son’s already near-perfect 33 ACT score. 

Diane Blake and Todd Blake

Diane Blake, a retail merchandising firm executive, and Todd Blake, an entrepreneur and an investor, confessed to paying $250,000 to have their daughter admitted to the University as a purported volleyball recruit. In July 2020, Diane Blake received six weeks in prison and Todd Blake received four months.