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Operation Varsity Blues: Parent releases phone transcripts to prove innocence

A week ago, Ed wrote about Lori Loughlin’s claim that prosecutors are mishandling how evidence is being handled in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. John B. Wilson, a Massachusetts financier is letting it be known that the government is unlawfully withholding evidence that could undercut its case.

Wilson, a parent caught up in the FBI operation to bring down college admissions fraudster Rick Singer, is going on the offense. Through his attorneys, he has turned over the transcript of an 18-minute telephone conversation between himself and Singer to federal court. The conversation is one that was intercepted by wiretap as evidence that Wilson and other parents were deliberately ripping off top universities. His attorneys also filed four other phone call transcripts and other materials in federal court to prove the government is withholding it to protect its case. The defense is entitled to know what evidence prosecutors have against Wilson.

The transcripts and documents show Wilson’s innocence, according to his attorneys. They show how Singer deceived his clients, like Wilson. They want a judge to order prosecutors to hand over the evidence they have that can help exonerate Wilson. Wilson, like Lori Loughlin and her husband, maintains he is innocent. The prosecutors have only released bits of the phone conversations between Singer and Wilson, as well as other parents, that benefit the government’s case. Wilson released the whole transcripts. The phone calls show how Singer offered his services for a price and steered parents away from colleges not in Singer’s network.

Singer steered Wilson away from schools where he is not believed to have had connections, the transcripts show. MIT is “not even a fun place to go to school, John.” As for Caltech: “Nobody goes to CalTech or MIT that’s a regular kid.” Dartmouth “doesn’t have a true engineering program.”

But Stanford, he told Wilson, is “the number one school in America.”

“They got everything,” Singer said. “They got the weather — ”

“Yeah.”

“They got sports, they got grade inflation, they offer every major. I mean, they’re the —”

“Yeah.”

“If anybody could go there,” Singer finished, “that’s the place.”

Wilson has twin daughters and he was interested in colleges with top engineering programs. He was thinking specifically about Harvard and Stanford but after talking about admission exams and the engineering programs, Singer told the dad the price of his services. Wilson was told by Singer that it would cost no less than $45 million. That’s insane, right? Certainly, the whole scam Singer was operating was illegal and wrong but, holy cow. That level of payment for college admission “counseling” services is straight out of fantasy land. So, when Wilson balked, Singer offered a suggestion.

Like any good salesman, Singer was ready with another, more attainable option: If Wilson paid him $1.2 million, he could get the girls into those schools through the “side door” — a euphemism Singer used to describe a scheme in which he bought off college coaches willing to sell spots at schools reserved for recruited athletes.

“Jesus,” Wilson said. “Is there a two-for-one special?”

Singer laughed off the suggestion. Wilson then asked what he could get in the $300,000 to half-million-dollar range.

“That’s, uh, Georgetown,” Singer said, “Boston College, Georgia Tech, USC, UCLA, Berkeley.”

Singer had an ‘in’ with the sailing coach, John Vandemoer, at Stanford. The coach was working with Singer in exchange for six-figure donations to his sports program. Coach Vandemoer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering in the case. A month after their initial phone call, Wilson spoke with Singer and said he could put down at least a half-million dollars toward a $1.5-million payment. Remember, Wilson didn’t know that by now Singer had made a plea deal with federal prosecutors to cooperate after he was apprehended by the FBI. He recorded hundreds of phone calls and turned them over to the feds. Singer pressured Wilson to commit to a college. Meanwhile, the deal was interrupted by the federal investigation. Wilson’s twin daughters didn’t gain college admission due to Rick Singer’s college admission fraud scheme.

Wilson’s attorneys want all the evidence currently in the prosecutors’ possession. They want FBI interviews, interviews with employees of the colleges Singer was working with, and any evidence that Singer flat-out stole from his clients. Wilson claims that Singer stole $100,000 from a $200,000 payment to a USC athletics program – a “middle man” payment. Hoo boy. The attorneys also want to know the details of deals cut with Singer and the college employees involved.

Singer has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit racketeering and money laundering, defrauding the federal government and obstructing justice. Frankly, he should be the person the feds are going after so strenuously. He was the one profiting so handsomely from fraudulent activity. While the parents obviously were looking to game the system and get their kids into top tier schools – Lori Loughlin’s husband boasted about playing the system like it was a game – it was Singer who put the plan into action. He was the mastermind of the operation. Singer was a middle man. It isn’t anything new for wealthy parents to buy admission for their children through hefty donations and endowments. Rick Singer took it to a new level of corruption by making a personal career of brokering the deals with the parents and using corrupt coaches along the way.

The parents who didn’t accept plea deals (like Wilson and Loughlin) will very likely be made examples of and serve some stiff sentences in jail. There isn’t much sympathy for them from the public. It’s the normal middle-class kid who suffers from this kind of illegal activity. They work hard, keep up with good grades, and hope to get a spot in their college of choice. In so many of these cases, bogus acceptance on a sports team kept kids depending on sports scholarships from being accepted. The same goes for students looking to be accepted without the sports angle. They were the real victims here.

The photo above is of the 1959 Harvard championship rowing team, celebrating an alumni row ahead of the 150th Harvard-Yale Regatta. I wonder what those guys think of the college admissions fraud happening today.

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