Private equity honcho John B. Wilson is a proud papa, and to hear him tell it, he has much to be proud of. His boy trained to be an Olympic polo player, and both of his daughters shined on their standardized tests. Of course, you never can be too careful, and as David Shaw or any other rich person can tell you, a little bit of largesse directed at the apples of your eye’s top-choice college can’t hurt, especially if two of them are Harvard and Stanford.
The payments were “legitimate donations, in order to assist with (but not guarantee) the admission of his very qualified children to their preferred universities....”
Of course, when $1.5 million of your $1.7 million in targeted educational philanthropy goes not to Harvard and Stanford, but to USC, where being a pretty good polo player would suffice to get you in, some might be suspicious. And, indeed, as you might have deduced from the fact that we’re writing about it, some did, and some of those people were FBI agents and federal prosecutors. They also thought it strange that the “legitimate donations” went through a man Wilson calls a “highly reputable college admissions counselor,” Rick Singer, who the authorities call the mastermind of a college admissions and testing scam and also a cooperating witness.
Unlike his similarly-situated peers like former PIMCO CEO Douglas Hodge and former hedge fund manager Manuel Henriquez, Wilson has not taken the easy way out and pleaded guilty. No, no: Those were honest gifts paid through someone he thought was an honest man and his kids didn’t really need the help anyway. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.
Still, facing trial on charges that could send him to prison until he’s in his 80s—and that did, in fact, send the more cooperative Hodge and Henriquez to prison, albeit for months rather than decades—you’d think Wilson would be singularly focused on his defense. But as with the thought of having done enough raising three great kids that any college would be lucky to have, no: Wilson is opening a second legal battle, this time with Netflix, producer of a new and very popular documentary on the amazing Operation Varsity Blues scandal.
“They [the Wilson family] have been forced to endure the ultimate destruction of their reputations in the eyes of more than 200 million global Netflix subscribers,” wrote family attorney Howard Cooper of the 100-minute film that began streaming March 17.
Prior to the movie’s release, Wilson allegedly warned Netflix in writing and provided “publicly available and fully exculpatory facts,” insisting that he and his family shouldn’t “simply be grouped into a narrative” with co-defendants who have pleaded guilty….
Wilson says he even supplied Netflix with the results of a two-day polygraph test to show his innocence.
“Yet, Netflix and the other defendants knowingly and recklessly ignored those facts and painted the Wilsons with the broadest and dirtiest brush possible,” Cooper wrote.
Indeed, John, Netflix did have access to the publicly available evidence, the same ones that prosecutors are hoping to send you to prison on, and like those prosecutors they apparently didn’t think much of your “fully exculpatory facts” in the face of that evidence, specifically the e-mails you allegedly sent to Singer that make those donations sound a lot less legitimate (and your son a lot less like Olympic material).
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 [USC polo coach] “Jovan Vavic is giving me one boys slot and as of yet no one has stepped up to commit…”
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.”
For more of the latest in litigation, regulation, deals and financial services trends, sign up for Finance Docket, a partnership between Breaking Media publications Above the Law and Dealbreaker.