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Lynnfield father charged in college bribery case

The iconic Tommy Trojan statue at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. (AP/Reed Saxon)

BOSTON — A Lynnfield dad faces prison amid a nationwide sting that netted parents, coaches, and admission consultants.

Prosecutors say they uncovered a conspiracy to bribe coaches and cheat on entrance exams to get their children into the nation’s most elite schools.

The U.S Attorney’s Office allege John Wilson, 59, paid $1.5 million to University of Southern California’s (USC) water polo coach Jovan Vavic, and two organizations created to conceal the source of the bribes, to get his three children admitted under the guise of being recruited as athletes.

In exchange for the cash, Wilson secured admission at USC for his son as a purported recruit to the school’s water polo team,  and Stanford University and Harvard University for his twin daughters, according to court documents.

Wilson owns a $2.4 million Colonial on Ashley Court with his wife, Leslie, and a seven-bedroom vacation home they bought in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod in 2000 for $6 million, according to county records.

The national scandal threatens to take down celebrities including Felicity Huffman, star of “Desperate Housewives,” and Lori Loughlin of “Full House” who were also indicted. In addition,  athletic coaches from Yale, Stanford, USC, Wake Forest and Georgetown, face prosecution, as well as parents and exam administrators.

A cooperating prosecution witness told law enforcement agents he began working with Wilson in 2012, who agreed to pay the bribes.

In 2013, Wilson e-mailed the witness to “confirm for which schools is side door option really viable,” according to the complaint.

The witness explained “Jovan Vavic is giving me one boys slot and as of yet no one has stepped up to commit…”

In a follow up email from Wilson’s wife, she said her son “is unaware of this arrangement.”

Also that year, Wilson e-mailed the witness and asked, “Would the other kids know my son was a bench warmer, side door person… Obviously his skill level may be below the other freshmen. In your view will he be so weak as to be a clear misfit at practice etc?”

The dad was told his son would not be expected to play water polo for USC, the transcript said.

Also in 2013, Wilson inquired about the timing of his payments to Vavic to secure his son’s admission.

Wilson wrote: “What does Jovan need… do I make the first payment to u then…also let me know when and where to wire money.”

Wilson’s son was admitted to USC as water polo recruit in 2014. One day after admission, under the subject line “USC fees,” Wilson wrote: “Thanks again for making this happen! Pls give me the invoice. What are the options for the payment? Can we make it for consulting or whatever… so I can pay it from the corporate account ?”

Witness replied that he could make the invoice for business consulting fees, so that Wilson could “write off as an expense.” Wilson replied, “Awesome!”

Prosecutors say the bribes were orchestrated by William “Rick” Singer, a 58-year-old California admissions consultant. He is scheduled to plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy. Court documents reveal his company was paid $25 million from 2011 through last month to facilitate the bribes.

He owned and operated the Edge College & Career Network LLC, a for-profit college counseling and preparation business. He also served as the CEO of the Key Worldwide Foundation, a nonprofit he established as a fake charity. Prosecutors allege the corporations were used to hide the bribes.

From 2011 through last month, Singer allegedly conspired with parents, athletic coaches, a university athletics administrator, and others, to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of students to the schools.

In addition to Wilson, 33 parents and 13 coaches and associates of Singer’s businesses, including two SAT and ACT test administrators, were also charged for their involvement in the scheme.  

Wilson was arrested in Texas and will be arraigned in U.S. District Court on Friday, March 29.

The charge of racketeering conspiracy provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and a fine of not more than $500,000 and three years probation.

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