Varsity Blues parents awaiting appeals remain free on bail

John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz filed appeals to overturn their convictions in April. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Two parents convicted of bribing their children’s way into USC in the 2019 college admissions scandal will remain free on bail while they appeal their cases, a federal judge ordered Thursday. John Wilson and Gamal Abdelaziz paid for their children to be admitted to USC as designated athletic recruits.

In 2019, more than 50 parents were charged with participating in “Operation Varsity Blues,” a scheme organized by private college admissions counselor William “Rick” Singer to secure their children’s spots at top universities across the United States. In the conspiracy that set off discussions about wealth, privilege, college admissions and higher education across the nation, the parents collectively paid more than 25 million for their children to receive unearned designations as athletic recruits, and modified test scores. At least 18 parents had cases related to the University.  

Wilson allegedly paid $220,000 to have his son admitted to the University as a water polo recruit, and another one million dollars to secure his twin daughters’ admissions into Harvard University and Stanford University.

Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, was accused of paying Singer’s nonprofit, Key Worldwide Foundation, $300,000 and former USC Athletic Director Donna Heinel $20,000 per month to have his daughter admitted to the University as a designated basketball recruit. His daughter had not played the sport in more than a year and was not on her high school’s varsity basketball team. 

In 2021, federal juries found Wilson and Abdelaziz guilty of all charges and handed a sentence of 15 months in prison to Wilson and a year in prison to Abdelaziz. The two men received the longest sentences yet of all defendants in the college admissions bribery scheme. 

Wilson and Abdelaziz filed appeals to overturn their convictions in April.

Attorneys for Wilson and Abdelaziz argued the two believed they were making legitimate donations to the University, as Singer, the central orchestrator of the college admissions conspiracy, made the scheme appear lawful.

Donating to universities to facilitate admissions is a common practice and is not considered bribery, the appeals claimed. 

Attorneys for Wilson and Abdelaziz expressed satisfaction with Judge ​​Nathaniel Gorton’s decision Thursday, the Charlotte Observer reported. Abdelaziz’s attorney also communicated determination to reverse the convictions. 

Wilson’s attorney did not immediately respond to the Daily Trojan’s request for comment and Abdelaziz’s attorney declined a request for comment.