BOSTON (AP) – A father was acquitted Thursday of charges that he paid off a Georgetown University tennis coach to get his daughter into the school in the final trial linked to the explosive college admissions bribery scandal.
Amin Khoury’s case is the 57th stemming from the Operation Varsity Blues investigation — which rocked the world of higher education and collegiate sports — to come to a conclusion, and the only one to end in an acquittal at trial.
Khoury was not found guilty by jurors on all counts stemming from accusations that he bribed then-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst with cash in a brown paper bag in exchange for his daughter’s recruitment to the team.
Khoury’s attorneys argued the daughter was properly admitted to the school, which they said routinely treated the kids of parents with deep pockets favorably in admissions. They painted the government’s star witness as a liar who made up the story to save himself from potential tax crimes.
A attorney for Khoury said the government’s case was seriously damaged by the testimony of Khoury’s daughter, who told jurors she didn’t know anything about the payment to Ernst and wasn’t involved in any kind of fraud.
“They accused her of being part of it. And it was totally false,” attorney Roy Black said after the jury announced its verdict.
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said prosecutors are disappointed and believe “that the conduct and facts in this case warranted Mr. Khoury’s prosecution.”
“Despite today’s verdict, this investigation, as well as the dozens of successful ‘Varsity Blues’ prosecutions, have resulted in enormous and systemic changes in the college admissions process,” Rollins said in an emailed statement. “These cases writ large have exposed the disturbing, improper, and inequitable role that wealth and privilege can play in distorting a system that is supposed to be merit based.”
Unlike dozens of wealthy parents convicted in the college cheating scandal involving elite universities across the country, Khoury wasn’t accused of working with admissions consultant Rick Singer, who used his sham charity to funnel bribes to coaches and others.
Instead, authorities said, Khoury used a middleman he was friends with in college at Brown University to bribe Ernst. Khoury, the middleman and Ernst all played tennis at Brown, and the deal came together while the three of them were at a reunion at the Providence, Rhode Island, school, prosecutors said.
The defense argued that the money was a gift to Ernst, who at the time was struggling financially because the construction of a new athletic center meant he was no longer able to use the school’s tennis courts to run private summer camps and supplement his income.
“What did the Georgetown family do for him? They did nothing,” Black told jurors during his closing argument. “They abandoned him. The only family that helped him was the Khoury family and they want to turn that into a crime.”
Khoury was charged more than a year after Ernst and 49 others — including actors and prominent businesspeople — were arrested in the sprawling scheme involving bogus athletic credentials and rigged entrance exam scores.
Among those listening to closing arguments Tuesday in Boston federal court was his father, Amin J. Khoury, who founded Wellington, Florida-based B/E Aerospace, an aircraft cabin interiors maker that was bought in 2017 for more than $6 billion.
Ernst didn’t testify at Khoury’s trial because he said he would assert his right against self-incrimination if called to the stand. He pleaded guilty to accepting more than $3 million in bribes to help students get into the school and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney told jurors that Khoury’s daughter didn’t have the academic record to get into Georgetown and was ranked at the bottom of her high school tennis team, which itself was ranked at the bottom of its league.
“She had no chance of getting in on merit,” Kearney said.
More than 50 Operation Varsity Blues defendants pleaded guilty, including “Full House” actor Lori Loughlin, her fashion designer husband Mossimo Giannulli, and “Desperate Housewives” star Felicity Huffman. Three others — two parents and a former University of Southern California water polo coach — were convicted at trial.
Another parent was pardoned by former President Donald Trump, and one coach got a deal under which prosecutors agreed to move to dismiss his case if he pays a fine and abides by the the agreement’s terms.
The longest sentence so far — 15 months in prison — was given to John Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, found guilty of paying bribes to get son into USC as a water polo recruit and his twin daughters into Harvard and Stanford.
Wilson and another father — Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive — are appealing their convictions, and a judge recently ruled that the two can remain out of prison while they challenge the convictions.
Singer is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
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