Published on: Friday, May 12, 2023

Nearly all of the Varsity Blues defendants pleaded out. Two of those who didn't went to trial and were convicted of honest services fraud (by using payments to deprive the universities of the honest services of their employees) and property fraud (by depriving the universities of property in the form of "admissions slots"). Jury: guilty. First Circuit: Not guilty. No honest services fraud because the payments to the universities—the purported victims here—weren't bribes. And the gov't's property theory, which would criminalize embellishing a kindergarten application, is too broad and "invalid as a matter of law." (But one defendant who deducted the donations sees his false-tax-return conviction affirmed.) The appeals court reminded prosecutors to be “cautious about criminalizing conduct, even unethical conduct."

The decision is a blow to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts, which launched the headline-grabbing cases in March 2019, charging business executives and Hollywood stars with working to grease the higher educational system and win their children slots at some of the nation's most prestigious universities.

The cases are U.S. v. Wilson, 22-1138, and U.S. v. Abdelaziz, 22-1129 (1st Cir. May 10, 2023)