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Opening statements kick off first trial of college admissions scandal

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Opening statements are slated to begin Monday in the first trial of the college admissions cheating scandal that ensnared celebrities Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman and was portrayed in the “Operation Varsity Blues” Netflix documentary.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are set to kick off the trial of Gamal Abdelaziz, a former Wynn Resorts executive, and John Wilson, a private-equity investor.

The two are accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to former college counselor and the scheme’s mastermind William “Rick” Singer to bribe staff and get their kids into the University of Southern California by falsely presenting them as athletic recruits.

Dozens of high-profile parents, athletic coaches and others have been arrested in connection with the case, but Abdelaziz and Wilson’s case is the first to go to trial, with many others having pleaded guilty.

Singer, who has admitted to working with parents and others to rig test scores and bribe coaches at schools like USC and Yale, is awaiting sentencing for his role in the scam, which laid bare the stunning level of corruption in the US higher education system.

Prosecutors have alleged that Abdelaziz paid $300,000 to Singer in 2017 to get his daughter, who didn’t qualify for her high school varsity basketball team, into USC as a basketball recruit.

Former Wynn Resorts executive Gamal Abdelaziz.
Former Wynn Resorts executive Gamal Abdelaziz paid Rick Singer in 2017 to get his daughter into USC as a basketball recruit.
Brian Snyder/REUTERS

Wilson similarly worked with Singer beginning in 2013 to get his son into USC as a water polo recruit and then later in 2018 to get his twin daughters into Harvard and Stanford as sailing recruits, prosecutors have alleged.

He allegedly paid more than $1 million for the arrangements.

In opening statements at the jury trial, defense attorneys will likely argue that Wilson and Abdelaziz believed their payments were legitimate donations and that USC’s acceptance of their kids in turn was legal and routine.

Prosecutors, though, have said it’s a clear-cut case of fraud and lying, accusing the defense of misleadingly focusing on USC’s admissions standards and not the behavior of the students’ parents.

Bruce Isackson.
Prosecution is expected to call Bruce Isackson, a real-estate developer from Northern California and a parent in the scam who’s been cooperating with prosecutors.
Michael Dwyer/AP

USC, for its part, has said it wasn’t aware of Singer’s scam until 2018 when it cooperated with the investigation.

US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, who’s presiding over the case in Massachusetts, emphasized at a recent hearing that “USC is not on trial.”

Prosecutors have said they don’t intend to call Singer as a witness, though they have left open the possibility. He’s already pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for tipping off some of his clients after he first agreed to cooperate with investigators.

In notes on his phone — which are now evidence in the case — Singer also claimed that federal agents were pressuring him to lie in recorded calls with parents, painting the payments they were making as bribes instead of donations. 

University of Southern California.
The University of Southern California has said it wasn’t aware of Rick Singer’s scam until 2018 when it cooperated with the investigation.
Reed Saxon/AP

The defense, if given the opportunity, may seize on those previous admissions.

Prosecution is expected to call Bruce Isackson, a real-estate developer from Northern California and a parent in the scam who’s been cooperating with prosecutors, as its first witness on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Stephen Frank said Friday in a hearing.

Isackson and his wife, Davina, pleaded guilty in 2019 to charges that they worked with Singer to get their daughters into the University of California, Los Angeles and USC as athletic recruits.

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New York

Crypto firms pay massive price tags to name arenas as sports teams weigh risks

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Cryptocurrency companies are being forced to shell out massive premiums in sports sponsorship deals as professional teams weigh the risks of getting burned — like some of them did during the dot-com bubble. 

Crypto.com, a Singapore-based crypto trading site, reportedly paid $700 million for the naming rights to the Staples Center in Los Angeles for 20 years — more than five times what Staples had paid for the same rights in 1999.

And in March, Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX ponied up $135 million to rename the home of the Miami Heat. That’s more than triple what American Airlines paid for naming rights in 1999.

Arena owners are able to demand more money from venture capital-flushed crypto firms because they’re relatively unknown names in an unproven industry, experts say. 

“If you want to do a deal with Mercedes Benz, that’s safe,” Columbia University sports management professor Joe Favorito told The Post. “If you go after a nontraditional naming rights deal, you probably ask them for a lot more money.” 

That’s because arena owners remember stadiums named after long-gone tech firms such as Baltimore’s PSINet Stadium and Boston’s CMGI field — both of which had to be re-christened after their namesakes imploded when the dot-com bubble burst in 2001. 

Exterior of the Baltimore Ravens stadium
The home of the Baltimore Ravens had to be renamed after tech firm PSINet imploded in 2002.
Getty Images

“During the bubble, there were companies that bought in on buildings and went bankrupt and that was an extremely disappointing and troubling thing,” said Favorito, who added that scrubbing a defunct company’s name from a stadium can also damage a franchise’s brand and can reduce its appeal to future sponsors.

As a result, crypto firms with unproven track records have to make their offers so big that team owners “can’t take anything else,” according to Chris Lencheski, an ex-Comcast executive who has worked on arena naming deals. He compares the dynamic to the “tobacco premium” that cigarette makers had to pay for sports deals in the 20th century.

Beyond arena naming rights, crypto companies are also spending big on other sports deals. 

Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen on the red carpet
Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen starred in a $20 million ad campaign for FTX in October.
Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and his supermodel wife Gisele Bündchen starred in a $20 million ad campaign for FTX in October, while American crypto exchange Coinbase paid an undisclosed amount to become the NBA’s first-ever “crypto sponsor” the same month.

Crypto.com also paid $175 million in July to plaster its name on Ultimate Fighting Championship posters and merch for 10 years. StormX, a startup that pays out crypto cash-back awards on online purchases, signed a multiyear deal to adorn Portland Trail Blazers jerseys with a logo patch in July.

“These companies are in a mad dash to get their name out there and put their stake in the ground,” said Woody Thompson, executive vice president at sports and entertainment marketing firm Octagon. 

The premium prices venture capital-flush crypto companies are willing to pay for ad space are likely to raise advertising costs across the board, forcing traditional advertisers like car, retail and beverage companies to shell out more money, Thompson said.

“This is what happened with the dot-com boom” he noted.

As lawmakers and regulators debate how to oversee the booming crypto industry, teams and arenas in the Washington, DC, area are seeing especially high interest from crypto companies and other new financial technology firms, according to Favorito. 

“In Washington, the people who are going to games are lobbyists and senators and you want to be front and center with them in their space,” he said. “Nobody’s really talked about the casual lobbying that goes on at a hockey game or a football game.” 

Exterior of the FTX Arena in Miami
In March, Bahamas-based crypto exchange FTX shelled out $135 million to rename the home of the Miami Heat.
Shutterstock / Johnny Michael

Crypto.com, FTX and StormX didn’t respond to requests for comment. Nor did the Portland Trail Blazers, the UFC, the FTX Arena or AEG Worldwide, which owns the Staples Center.

Coinbase spokesman Andrew Schmitt declined to provide details of the company’s NBA deal.

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Vita Vea gets tooth knocked out, seems just fine with that

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Vita Vea was all smiles despite getting one of his front teeth knocked out Sunday.

The Buccaneers’ defensive tackle was shown grinning and pointing to his bloody new gap on the sidelines after he lost a tooth while being blocked by Colts guard Mark Glowinski in the first half.

Vea’s helmet appeared to be coming off before contact — with his facemask rising above his mouth — enabling a direct hit by Glowinski’s helmet into Vea’s face to dislodge one of his teeth.

Vita Vea tooth
Vita Vea had his tooth knocked out by the helmet of Mark Glowinski.
Fox
Vita Vea tooth
Vita Vea didn’t seem too bothered by having a tooth knocked out.
Fox

The replay of the play led to this exchange between Fox play-by-play announcer Kevin Burkhardt and analyst Greg Olsen:

“Oh, he lost a tooth,” Burkhardt said.

“And he’s smiling. That’s the best part. Oh my gosh,” Olsen added.

“Does the tooth fairy come for 26 year olds? I’m just asking. That is unbelievable,” Burkhardt said.

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Manhattan skyscraper snags its own builder as a tenant

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The Spiral is adding a large new tenant who won’t have to ask where the elevators and the bathrooms are when it moves in.

That’s because Turner Construction Company, which just signed a 13-year, 75,000-square-foot lease, is actually building the new Tishman Speyer tower on the far West Side. Turner is the general contractor on the BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group-designed skyscraper with a top-to-bottom landscaped spiral of exterior terraces.

Turner is moving its worldwide headquarters to the third floor of the tower, aka  66 Hudson Boulevard between West 34th and 35th streets. It will relocate from 375 Hudson St. in January 2023.

The deal brings The Spiral’s 2.8 million square feet to 54 percent leased with a year left before it’s completed.

Turner handles $12 billion of construction each year worldwide. Tishman Speyer President and CEO Rob Speyer called the firm  “an incredible partner as we built The Spiral, introducing technology, safety and workforce innovations that make it a new standard for modern office development.”

Turner CEO Peter Davoren said the building “will provide us with an environment that so well defines our vision and the future of the company.”

Construction workers at The Spiral's site.
Tishman Speyer CEO Rob Speyer (second from right), along with others involved in creating The Spiral, signs the steel beam for the topping out of the building.
AP

The Spiral will also be home to COVID-beating vaccine maker Pfizer, the anchor tenant with 746,000 square feet.

Large leases were also signed by law firm Debevoise & Plimpton and AllianceBernstein.

Terms of the Turner deal were not released. Asking rents in the tower have been reported as ranging from $110 per square foot at the base to $225-plus per square foot at the top.

A rendering of The Spiral with the Chrysler Building in the background
AllianceBernstein has also leased space in The Spiral, aka 66 Hudson Boulevard.
The Spiral NY

A CBRE team of Mary Ann Tighe, Rob Hill, Brendan Herlihy and Elliot Bok advised Turner on the deal. Tishman Speyer was repped by an in-house leasing team.


When news broke last week that Chubb signed on as the first tenant at 550 Madison Ave. — a deal that we first forecast three months earlier — observers, Realty Check included, were curious what the lease terms were.

The first tenant at a new development or redevelopment typically gets a more favorable deal than those that follow.

We’ve now learned that Chubb will enjoy 24 months of free rent.

Once the two years are up, the rent will increase in stages from $110 to $140 per square foot on floors 10 to 17 and from $160 to $190 per square foot on floors 36 to 38.


For a street where nobody wants to shop anymore — as lots of off-base media reports claim —  it’s remarkable how the prime stretch of Madison Avenue north of 59th Street continues to draw luxury retailers even as some others move away.

Heidi Klum wearing a camouflage Birkin bag from Hermes
Hermès, maker of bags favored by style-setters like supermodel Heidi Klum, is opening a flagship store at 702 Madison Ave.
GC Images

The newest arrival will be Italian menswear maker Kiton at currently vacant 692 Madison Ave. between East 62nd and 63rd streets. Kiton just signed a lease for a three-level, 3,400-square-foot boutique next door to scarf and bag emporium Hermès — which will soon move into a much larger space at 702 Madison.

“This deal is a true testament to luxury retail in the city,” said broker Marc Sitt of Kassin Sabbagh Realty, who with Dorel Melloul represented the landlord at 692 Madison, the Ezair family.

“With Hermès opening their new flagship, this corridor will be more vibrant than it was in previous years.  We’re happy we structured a lease which made sense for everyone,” Sitt added.

Hermès will soon house its men’s and women’s collections in one building at 702 Madison.  

A building with the Cushman & Wakefield logo on the front
Cushman & Wakefield handled Kiton’s side of the leasing transaction at 692 Madison Ave.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Kiton is expected to move in next summer. The store will also remain at 4 E. 54th St., a building owned by Kiton.

The Madison Avenue asking rent was $1.2 million per year.

Kiton was repped by Cushman & Wakefield’s Alan Wildes and Ian Lerner. Sitt also credited Kiton lawyer Massimo D’angelo for playing an important role in the deal.

Other recent nearby retail transactions include Celine at 650 Madison Ave. and Balenciaga at 620 Madison.


Prolific architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox has renewed its lease and expanded at Tishman Speyer’s 11 W. 42nd St. KPF added 38,000 square feet on the entire seventh floor,  bringing its total in the 1928-vintage building — known for its fine views and abundance of natural light — to more than 100,000 square feet.

The rent started in the low $60s per square foot, sources said. As part of the deal, KPF will enjoy one year of free rent on the expansion floor.

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