As College Admissions Trial Begins, Parents Claim They Were Duped

The government said on Monday that it did not intend to put Mr. Singer, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering, on the witness stand, but that the jury would hear his words on tape and in emails. The defense foreshadowed that it would try to show that Mr. Singer had been coerced by the government into painting some parents as criminals even though he did not really believe they were.

The defense lawyers tried to turn their wealthy clients into people the jury could relate to. Mr. Kelly pointed out Mr. Abdelaziz’s wife, who was sitting in the audience. (Almost everyone in the courtroom wore masks.)

Mr. Wilson, who runs a private equity firm, never knew his biological father, according to his lawyer, Michael Kendall, and his mother raised him in a housing project after she became pregnant with him as a teenager. Inspired by his own struggle growing up, Mr. Wilson had made a practice of donating millions of dollars to educational causes, Mr. Kendall said.

Mr. Singer cultivated a personal relationship with the Wilson family, Mr. Kendall said. “For three years, he regularly came to the Wilson house,” giving his son advice on tutors, writing coaches and sports, Mr. Kendall said. Mr. Singer knew that Mr. Wilson, whom his lawyer described as “the kid from the projects,” would be “generous and would trust his advice.”

Prosecutors say that Mr. Wilson paid $220,000 to have his son, Johnny, designated as a water polo recruit. He was admitted to U.S.C. but “redshirted” from the start, meaning that he was one of several players who did not get to play, Mr. Wilson’s lawyer said in his opening statement. He left the team after one semester.

Mr. Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, had previously hired Mr. Singer for a $5,000 fee — more typical of admissions consultants — to coach his son, Adam, on getting into college, Mr. Kelly said. After Adam was admitted to Columbia, the university’s development office reached out to Mr. Abdelaziz for a donation, and he gave $200,000, Mr. Kelly said.


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