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15 parents charged in college scandal appear in court

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BOSTON - Fifteen parents accused of conspiracy to commit fraud appeared in federal court Friday as legal proceedings accelerated in the college admissions cheating and bribery scandal.

The parents, who have not yet entered pleas, were among 30 charged in a criminal complaint with participating in an illicit scheme to help their children win admission to prominent universities. Three others have been charged in an indictment.

Several other parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, are scheduled to appear here in U.S. District Court on Wednesday. The preliminary hearings are part of the pre-indictment phase of the case.

Prosecutors have accused the parents of paying consultant William "Rick" Singer millions of dollars to bankroll a two-part scheme to compromise the admissions process. Much of the money allegedly flowed through a sham charity Singer controlled.

Some of the money the parents paid, prosecutors say, enabled Singer to arrange cheating on the SAT and ACT admission tests. That was part one.

Other funds were allegedly used to bribe athletic coaches, the second tactic. The coaches - at the time employed by Georgetown, Yale and Stanford universities and the University of Southern California, among others - would then designate certain applicants as recruited athletes even if they lacked qualifications for intercollegiate sports, according to prosecutors. Such designations can boost the chances of admission to prestigious schools.

Singer pleaded guilty March 12 to racketeering conspiracy and three other crimes as federal prosecutors announced the results of an investigation that stunned the higher education world. On the same day, former Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

On Thursday, former Yale women's soccer coach Rudolph Meredith pleaded guilty to two fraud-related counts after prosecutors accused him of taking and soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Yale this week said it has rescinded admission of one student in connection with the case.

On Tuesday, several athletic coaches and others charged in the plot pleaded not guilty.

On Friday, the 15 accused parents came to the courtroom with attorneys. Magistrate Judge Page Kelley explained they could face up to 20 years in prison and substantial fines if convicted of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.

Attorneys for one defendant, casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz of Las Vegas, argued that their client should be able to travel internationally to earn a living while awaiting trial. Abdelaziz is a U.S. citizen with three children and "he intends to fight this case," an attorney for him argued. The attorney said evidence in the case is based solely on one "deeply compromised" witness - meaning Singer.

Abdelaziz is accused of donating $300,000 in 2018 to Singer's charity - with the understanding, prosecutors allege, that the real purpose was to enable his daughter to be designated as a recruit for the USC basketball team. The daughter, according to court documents, was admitted to USC but did not join the team.

Kelley gave Abdelaziz permission to travel to Mexico next week, and other occasional business trips as needed, but she required him to turn in his passport between trips.

Some of the accused are pushing back.

Amy and Gregory Colburn, of Palo Alto, California, are charged in an indictment with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering as participants in the test-cheating portion of the scam. Lawyers for the couple released a statement this week denying the allegations.

Their son took the SAT without assistance, according to the statement, and the couple did not know that his test was changed to improve the score.

"The Colburns' lives have been turned upside down by these false accusations," the statement continued. Noting that the parents were arrested in front of their children, the statement accused the Justice Department of "heavy-handed tactics."

William McGlashan, of Mill Valley, California, one of the 15 who appeared here Friday, has resigned from a private equity firm that he helped to found and from a social impact investment group, according to a letter his attorneys provided to The Washington Post.

"I am deeply sorry this very difficult situation may interfere with the work to which I have devoted my life," McGlashan wrote in the March 14 letter, adding that "there are aspects of the story that have yet to emerge that I wish I could share."

This article was written by Nick Anderson, a reporter for The Washington Post.