A U.S. appeals court reversed the convictions of two fathers accused of participating in an extensive bribery scheme to get their kids admitted to colleges.
Nicknamed Operation Varsity Blues, the scandal resulted in the convictions of dozens of wealthy parents, athletic officials, and others linked to the scam and "sparked scrutiny over the influence of money on the competitive world of elite college admissions," The Washington Post says. Parents allegedly conspired with admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer to get their kids into competitive colleges "through bribery, rigging entrance exams, and fabricating athletic skills," Reuters reports.
Many of the parents, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, pleaded guilty, but Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson chose to fight the charges in court. A panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Massachusetts found that the lower court made crucial errors in the trial of Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, and Wilson, a private equity financier.
Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch explained that the district court should not have told the jury that admissions slots constitute property and that the prosecutors failed to prove the two men participated in the broader conspiracy. The appellate court vacated all of Abdelaziz's convictions and all but one of Wilson's (his conviction for "filing a false tax return" was affirmed, the Post adds).
"Nothing in this opinion should be taken as approval of the defendant's conduct in seeking college admission for their children," Lynch noted. "We do not say the defendants' conduct is at all desirable."
Abdelaziz and Wilson's victory was "striking" because the pair were the "first to take their chances in front of a jury," The New York Times writes. Since dozens of other parents pleaded guilty, it seemed "as if the prosecutions were ironclad."
"Almost everybody pleaded guilty, so the government's legal theories weren't really tested until this case was decided," Joshua Sharp, Abdelaziz's lawyer, said on Wednesday.