Former USC law firm can defend Varsity Blues parent

Gamal Abdelaziz allegedly paid $300,000 to falsely designate his daughter as a basketball recruit to secure admission to USC. (Vincent Leo | Daily Trojan)

Las Vegas casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz, who is accused of paying for his daughter to be admitted to USC as a false athletic recruit through the admissions scandal, submitted a request to the federal court in June to use Nixon Peabody as his defense, despite a potential conflict of interest due to the firm’s prior work for USC and for a Stanford University coach named in the admissions case. 

Firm Nixon Peabody represented USC in a case involving health care and intellectual property and currently represents John Vandemoer, a Stanford sailing coach who accepted $610,000 in bribes to facilitate the admission of two Stanford applicants as sailing recruits in the Operation Varsity Blues case.

In an order filed in June, Abdelaziz’s defense contended that no conflict existed between Nixon Peabody representing Abdelaziz and USC because of the differences in the subject matter of each case and stated the University had not shared information about the admissions case with the law firm. 

Nixon Peabody’s prior relationship with USC and Vandemoer had previously raised questions about whether defending Abdelaziz would present a conflict of interest. However, Brian Kelly, a Nixon Peabody attorney representing Abdelaziz, stated that Vandemoer was not a cooperating witness in the admissions case and that the government likely will not call Vandemoer to testify against Abdelaziz.

“There is no ‘direct adversity’ because there is no conflict between the legal rights and duties of USC and the legal rights and duties of Mr. Abdelaziz,” the order read. “Nor is there any material limitation on Nixon Peabody’s ability to represent Mr. Abdelaziz stemming from, for instance, USC sharing confidences with Nixon about the subject matter of this case (which it has not done).”

Abdelaziz allegedly paid $300,000 to designate his daughter as a USC women’s basketball recruit in March 2018. He enlisted the help of scheme organizer William “Rick” Singer, who coordinated with senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and former assistant women’s soccer coach Laura Janke to create a falsified recruitment profile for Abdelaziz’s daughter that listed several fabricated international basketball awards. Heinel then presented the profile to an admissions subcommittee, which extended Abdelaziz’s daughter an offer of conditional acceptance contingent on maintaining a 3.3 GPA during her final semester of high school, according to court documents.

Abdelaziz faces charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He is one of 15 parents in the college admissions case, including 11 USC parents, who have pleaded not guilty and will stand trial beginning in October.

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