More than four dozen coaches, parents and testing officials were arrested in March of 2019 as part of the college admissions scandal known as Varsity Blues. The first case to go to trial has been appearing in Boston federal court all week. Kirk Carapezza, high ed desk reporter who has been following the case for two years, joined Sean Corcoran on Morning Edition to dive into the first week and share new tapes released by authorities. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Sean Corcoran: This is the first case to go to trial. Most others have pleaded guilty. So, what's been happening so far?

Kirk Carapezza: Prosecutors and defense lawyers have been making their opening statements in this fraud and bribery case against two wealthy dads who the government says made big payments to secure their kids admission spots to the University of Southern California. Now, prosecutors say private equity investor John Wilson of Lynnfield and former casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz conspired with college counselor Rick Singer. He's the admitted ringleader of the scheme to bribe USC coaches to guarantee that their kids could get in and they used fake athletic credentials in order to do that.

Defense attorneys argue Singer deceived these two dads who they say didn't see their payments funneled through Singer's fake charity as bribes, but rather legal donations to schools. And now how the jury understands the dad's mindset — whether they see these payments as bribes or donations will be critical to the outcome.

Corcoran: How is the prosecution presenting this?

Carapezza: They're using a lot of emails and they're also playing these wiretapped conversations between Singer, the two dads and other parents who've already pleaded guilty. You'll remember the FBI recorded hours and hours of tapes in 2018 after Singer agreed to cooperate with authorities in this case. Singer and John Wilson discussed the difference between making so-called, quote, side door or backdoor payments to private colleges.

LISTEN: Rick Singer and John Wilson discuss college admissions scheme

Carapezza: Wilson then goes on to ask about the cost of the side door at other schools like Boston College, the University of Southern California and UCLA. And here's how Singer responds.

LISTEN: Rick Singer and John Wilson discuss college admissions scheme

Corcoran: They're just so casual the way they talk about it.

Carapezza: And once they've winnowed the list down and decided that MIT is “not even a fun place to go to school,” Wilson then asks Singer which sport his son and twin daughters should purportedly practice and be recruited to play in order to grease their admissions to Ivy League schools like Harvard.

LISTEN: Rick Singer and John Wilson discuss college admissions scheme

Carapezza: And Sean, we should point out here that Wilson is accused of paying more than $200,000 to successfully get his son admitted to USC as a water polo recruit with some inflated credentials and also conspiring to pay another $1.5 million to secure admission for his twin daughters to Harvard and Stanford. Later in the tape, he actually asks about writing these donations off as charitable contributions.

Corcoran: It's hard to believe that the attorneys would go to trial knowing that these transcripts exist.

Carapezza: Right. And they knew — we've seen these transcripts for years that were part of the initial indictments. They've been reenacted in Netflix documentaries. But until now, we've never actually been able to hear them. I asked former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cohen why he thinks these parents decided to go to trial even after dozens of other parents and coaches have pleaded guilty. Cohen teaches law at Boston College, and he says these dads are hoping to blur the line between what was clearly corrupt and what was just making large legal donations.

And Cohen says the defense will basically boil down to the idea that these dads didn't do anything dishonest, that they had no intent to defraud or to bribe anybody, and that they were just playing within the rules of this “shadow system” that a lot of us know is perpetuated by colleges which want donations and give advantages to rich people who make donations, who might want to give their kid an edge in getting in.

Corcoran: Are all the conversations like this?

Carapezza: Not all of them. For me, what was most striking was the tone of these conversations. In some of them, kids are involved with some of the other parents. But it's as you said, it's so casual. But then suddenly it's awkward when they get into the nitty gritty details of how the scheme actually works. You hear a lot of awkward laughter. But what's most striking to me has been just how these parents banter about choosing selective private colleges. It sounds like they're standing around an all you can eat buffet, deciding what they want, picking and choosing.

Corcoran: Do we know if the kids knew that their parents were arranging these “donations”?

Carapezza: In some cases, no. And it seems that in this case, the sons and daughters were kept in the dark and unaware. But in other cases parents admitted that they actually convinced their kids to pose for photographs.

Corcoran: How much longer is this trial going on?

Carapezza: It's hard to say, but the judge indicated at the beginning of the trial that it will be about a month. So we're expecting to hear from more parents and coaches who've already pleaded guilty. The prosecution said it will not call Rick Singer as a witness. And legal experts tell me it's unlikely the two dads will take the stand in their own defense. Just this week, Georgetown's head tennis coach, who has ties to Falmouth, agreed to plead guilty. We're still not sure Rick Singer's fate, the ringleader. His sentencing has not been scheduled yet. So this case just goes on and on.

Listen to the full audio of the call between Singer and Wilson:

Varsity Blues Trial: Rick Singer And John Wilson Discuss College Admissions Scheme