BOSTON, Massachusetts: The first trial in a wide ranging college admissions corruption case is underway in Boston's federal court, more than two years after prosecutors arrested 50 parents, athletic coaches and others in an admissions scheme that embroiled elite universities across the country.
On Monday, defense attorneys said former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples and Gap Inc. executive John Wilson--- the two parents accused of buying their children's way into elite schools--never discussed paying bribes.
They claim to have been assured by an admissions consultant at the center of the scheme that what they were doing was a legal practice to give children of parents with deep pockets a leg up in admissions, the defense said.
"It's not illegal to give money to schools with the hope that it helps your kid get in," Abdelaziz's attorney, Brian Kelly, told jurors in his opening statement. "No one ever said bribery to him."
Thirty-three other parents have pleaded guilty, including TV actors Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin and Loughlin's fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.
The parents have so far received punishments ranging from probation to nine months in prison.
Abdelaziz, of Las Vegas, is accused of paying $300,000 to a sham charity run by the scheme's mastermind - admissions consultant Rick Singer - to get his daughter into the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit, even though she was not a member of her high school's varsity basketball team.
Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, is charged with paying $220,000 to have his son designated a USC water polo recruit, along with paying an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters into Harvard and Stanford.
Prosecutors say the parents were well aware their payments were designed to ease their children's way into school as athletic recruits, with fake or embellished credentials as part of Singer's so-called, side-door scheme.
"That is what this case is about: lies," Assistant U.S. Attorney Leslie Wright said. It's "not about wealthy people donating money to universities with the hope that their children get preferential treatment in the admissions process."
Singer, who has pleaded guilty but has not been sentenced, was long expected to be the government's star witness. But prosecutors have now said they will not call Singer to the stand.
The first witness for the government is Bruce Isackson, who - along with his wife Davina - pleaded guilty in 2019 to paying $600,000 to ensure his daughters were admitted to USC and the University of California, Los Angeles. The Isacksons have since agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, in the hopes of receiving lighter sentences.
The trial is expected to last a number of weeks.