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Grand jury indicts Lynnfield father in college bribery case

John Wilson and his wife, Leslie, leaving the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse following a hearing in Boston April 3. (Spenser R. Hasak)

BOSTON — A Lynnfield father has been charged in a bribery scheme to secure a spot for his son at the University of Southern California.

John Wilson, 59, was one of 16 parents indicted by a federal Grand Jury on Tuesday in a nationwide admissions scandal that has rocked some of the nation’s most prestigious schools.

Wilson allegedly paid $1.2 million to USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, and two organizations created to conceal the source of the bribes, to get three children into colleges under the guise of being recruited as athletes.

In exchange for the cash, Wilson landed 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’s lawyer, Michael Kendall, managing partner of White & Case LLP’s Boston office, did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to Wilson, Lori Loughlin of “Full House,” was also charged with conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and honest services fraud, and money laundering. The defendants face up to 20 years in jail.

On Monday, 13 parents and one university athletic coach pleaded guilty to charges of mail and honest services mail fraud, including Felicity Huffman, star of “Desperate Housewives.”  

The 56-year-old Emmy Award winner was accused of paying $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation to cheat on her daughter’s college entrance exam.

Huffman issued a heartfelt apology to the court.

“I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community,” she said. “I want to apologize to them and, especially, I want to apologize to the students who work hard every day to get into college, and to their parents who make tremendous sacrifices to support their children and do so honestly.”

Prosecutors say Wilson could plead guilty at a later date. The parents who admit guilt are likely to face no more than 46 months in prison instead of up to 20 years, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

Last week, the ashen-faced Wilson, his wife, Leslie, and their two Boston defense attorneys, made an appearance in U.S. District Court.

Attorney Eric Rosen recited the penalties Wilson faces in addition to prison, including a $250,000 fine and supervised release.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Page Kelley asked Wilson if he understood the charge and he answered, “Yes, your honor.”

Wilson is one of three dozen parents, coaches and admission consultants who are facing charges in the scandal.

Following the brief appearance, the Wilsons exited the courtroom holding hands and registered with the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Services Office. The couple declined a request for comment.

Huffman and Loughlin walked past reporters and refused to answer questions. But Loughlin shook hands with prosecutors when she entered the packed courtroom, which brought odd glances from Rosen and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leslie Wright and Justin O’Connell.

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.

Wilson, who founded a private equity and real estate company, owns a $2.4 million Colonial on Ashley Court, and a $6 million seven-bedroom vacation home in Hyannis Port, according to county records.

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

Wilson’s son is still a student at USC, but the school has launched an investigation and has promised to reveal the findings when it is completed.

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

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