A wealthy businessman accused of bribing his daughter’s way into Georgetown University as a tennis player was acquitted on all counts Thursday by a federal jury in Boston, the first not-guilty verdict related to the government’s Varsity Blues investigation into corrupt college admissions.
The businessman, Amin Khoury, was accused of giving $180,000 in cash to Gordon Ernst, Georgetown’s tennis coach, to facilitate his daughter’s recruitment to the team and admission to the university, even though she was not a Georgetown-caliber player. The cash went through a middleman, delivered in a paper bag, according to prosecutors.
After the verdict, one of Mr. Khoury’s lawyers, Roy Black, said the verdict showed that the jury had agreed with the defense’s argument that college admissions is not a pure meritocracy, and that Georgetown cultivated applicants from families that could afford to make generous donations to the university.
“I tried to emphasize to the jury that the federal government had no part in getting into these private businesses,” Mr. Black said in an interview. “These schools are private businesses that spend 24 hours a day fund-raising, and there’s no tax dollars involved, no government officials involved, no government policies. So No. 1, the federal government should not be involved in it.”
Mr. Black said that the defense had a document — which he referenced in his opening statement but was not able to introduce at trial — that showed Georgetown had researched the financial backgrounds of parents who could become donors, including Mr. Khoury.
“Georgetown had a team of people that researched what the father did, what his income was, how much their homes cost,” Mr. Black said. “They figured they could get somewhere between one and five million from him, that’s how cynical this is.”
He added: “We proved beyond any doubt that wealth is a huge factor in getting admitted into these elite universities — I’m not talking about the government-funded universities, I’m talking about the Ivy Leagues and Georgetowns.”
Mr. Khoury is involved in financial investment. His father, Amin J. Khoury, was a founder of B/E Aerospace, a manufacturer of aircraft cabin interior products.
In a statement, Rachael S. Rollins, the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, said the government was disappointed by the verdict, but heartened that dozens of successful Varsity Blues prosecutions “have resulted in enormous and systemic changes in the college admissions process,” and had shown how wealth and privilege could distort a system that is supposed to be based on merit.
Although prosecutors framed the Khoury case in a way that was very similar to the other cases, it was different in that it did not involve William Singer, a college admissions consultant, who pleaded guilty to helping dozens of parents get their children admitted to elite schools through bribery, fake SAT scores and falsified credentials.
Mr. Black said he believed that having Mr. Khoury’s daughter, Katherine, on the stand “to tell the story that she was a tennis player, wanted to play tennis,” also helped. She has since graduated from Georgetown and received a master’s in business from Fordham, he said.
Mr. Ernst, the former tennis coach, pleaded guilty last fall to soliciting and accepting bribes to help students get into the university.
The Khoury verdict was extraordinary in that it came after a string of guilty pleas by other parents caught up in the college admissions scandal, and after two other parents who took their chances at trial, John Wilson, a former Gap and Staples executive, and Gamal Abdelaziz, a former casino executive, were convicted. Mr. Wilson and Mr. Abdelaziz, who made similar arguments, are appealing.
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.