A Hot Pockets heiress, a Napa Valley winemaker and a former Wynn Resorts executive were among the parents who faced a judge in Boston federal court Friday for allegedly bribing their children's way into elite universities as part of a nationwide college cheating scandal.
The 15 parents made initial appearances in court for their alleged participation in the scheme. Authorities say they are among the 50 people charged for paying $25 million in bribes to college insiders to get their children into top-rated schools.
Among those appearing Friday was Michelle Janavs, a former executive in her family's food manufacturing business, which developed Hot Pockets before selling it to Nestle for $2.6 billion. She is accused of paying $100,000 to help her daughter cheat on her ACT in 2017 and to get into the University of Southern California as a purported beach volleyball player.
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Agustin Huneeus, owner of Huneeus Vineyards in Napa Valley, was released on conditions after he appeared before a judge Friday. He is accused of participating in the scheme in 2017 and 2018 to help his daughter get into USC as a water polo recruit, and allegedly had someone photoshop her face onto a water polo stock image.
Gamal Abdelaziz, the former head of Wynn Resorts Development, was also released on conditions, including turning in his passport after every business trip. He allegedly paid $300,000 to get his daughter into USC. The money went toward creating a fake athletic profile to secure her admission as a basketball recruit.
Abdelaziz didn't make a statement in court, but defense lawyer Brian Kelly said his client intends to fight the charges.
Kelly requested permission for Abdelaziz to travel to Mexico on business next month. He says "this is a one-witness case" that relies on a "deeply compromised" witness.
Other defendants appearing Friday were William McGlashan, a former executive for the private equity firm TPG; prominent Miami developer Robert Zangrillo; California businessman Stephen Semprevivo; former media executive Elisabeth Kimmel; Arizona resort developer Robert Flaxman; California warehouse company owner I-Hsin Joey Chen; Gregory Abbott, the founder and chairman of International Dispensing Corp. and his wife, Marcia Abbott; entreprenur and investor Todd Blake and his wife Diane Blake, an executive at a retail merchandising firm; Marjorie Klapper, the co-owner of a jewelry business; and Marci Palatella, who founded bourbon maker Preservation Distillery in Kentucky.
The initial court appearances are largely a formality.
Defendants weren't asked to enter a plea Friday. Court officials simply recited the charges and maximum sentences while the judge informed the defendants of their rights and considered any special requests, such as Abdelaziz's travel request.
Friday's court proceedings came a day after Rudy Meredith, the former women's soccer coach for Yale, pleaded guilty to taking bribes in exchange for recruiting students as athletes despite their athletic abilities. He is the third person to plead guilty in the nationwide scheme.
The alleged mastermind of the operation, William "Rick" Singer, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and other charges in federal court on March 12. He is cooperating with prosecutors.
Court documents for "Operation Varsity Blues" state the accused aimed to get their children into Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, USC, the University of California Los Angeles, the University of San Diego and University of Texas.
Actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among those charged in the case but are not scheduled to appear in court until next week. They have not publicly addressed the allegations.