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Mass. The man whose Varsity Blues convictions were overturned is suing Netflix for defamation

Mass.  The man whose Varsity Blues convictions were overturned is suing Netflix for defamation

A Massachusetts man who claims he was falsely accused in the high-profile “Varsity Blues” college admissions bribery scandal and had convictions overturned has sued Netflix for defamation over a documentary about the case. John Wilson said the lawsuit against him is part of his ongoing battle to restore his family's reputation. “It's been five years of living through hell,” Wilson said. Five years ago, Wilson was one of more than 50 fathers charged in the Varsity Blues case that included some high-profile defendants, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. Authorities allege that Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, paid $220,000 to hire His son as a USC water polo recruit and an extra million dollars to buy his twin daughters' path to Harvard and Stanford. Wilson's lawyers argued that their clients believed they were making legitimate donations and that the admissions counselor at the center of the scandal, William “Rick” Singer, presented the so-called “side door” scheme as a legal scheme. They said they were led to believe their money would go directly to colleges, saying they were no different from other wealthy parents who make donations to get a boost in the admissions process. “We did nothing wrong. We did not commit any fraud. We did not bribe or cheat,” Wilson said. Wilson said his children's accomplishments were never faked or reinforced, especially his son. “He's been an elite athlete his whole life. He started competing when he was 7 years old,” Wilson said of his son. While most parents charged in the case took plea deals, Wilson went to trial and was found guilty by a federal jury in October 2021 on the guilty plea. one count of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and wire fraud; honest services mail and wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federal programs; three counts of wire fraud and honest services fraud; two counts of federal program bribery; and a charge of submitting a false tax return. He was sentenced in February 2022 to 15 months in prison, two years of supervised release and 400 hours of community service. Wilson was also ordered to pay a $200,000 fine and $88,546 in restitution. But in May 2023, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned all but one of Wilson's convictions. The three-judge panel in that case affirmed the conviction for filing a false tax return. In September 2023, he was sentenced to one year of supervised release, with the first six months to be served on home confinement and 250 hours of community service. Wilson was also ordered to pay a $75,000 fine and $88,546 in restitution. “Now, we still face public condemnation,” Wilson said. “We are looking to turn public opinion around my family.” Before Wilson's initial trial began, Netflix released the documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” in March 2021. The film uses re-enactments and actors, and Wilson claims the portrayal in the film is inaccurate. According to Wilson, there are significant differences between the photos of his son that were submitted to Netflix and what was depicted in the film. “Hand, pretending to be my son,” Wilson said. “I didn't do anything wrong. We made donations. (My children) worked hard and got all their credentials, and were qualified on their own. We didn't bribe anyone. We made donations to the schools, and let's see, their suffering has been devastating.” Wilson is seeking financial damages from Netflix through his lawsuit, but court documents do not specify how much money he is seeking. According to Wilson, he spent $10 million fighting the charges in court. NewsCenter 5 has reached out to Netflix for comment on Wilson's lawsuit, but has not yet received a response. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Previous coverage:

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A Massachusetts man who claims he was falsely accused in the high-profile “Varsity Blues” college admissions bribery scandal and had convictions overturned is suing Netflix for defamation over a documentary about the case.

John Wilson said the lawsuit against him is part of his ongoing battle to restore his family's reputation.

“It's been five years of living in hell,” Wilson said.

Five years ago, Wilson was one of more than 50 fathers charged in the “Varsity Blues” case that included some high-profile defendants, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

Authorities alleged that Wilson, a former Staples Inc. executive, paid $220,000 to have his son designated as a USC water polo recruit and an additional $1 million to buy his twin daughters' paths to Harvard and Stanford.

Wilson's lawyers argued that their clients believed they were making legitimate donations and that the admissions counselor at the center of the scandal, William “Rick” Singer, presented the so-called “side door” scheme as a legal scheme. They said they were led to believe their money would go directly to colleges, saying they were no different from other wealthy parents who make donations to get a boost in the admissions process.

“We did nothing wrong. We did not commit any fraud. We did not bribe and we did not cheat,” Wilson said.

Wilson said his children's accomplishments were never faked or enhanced, especially his son's.

“He's been an elite athlete his whole life. He started competing when he was seven years old,” Wilson said of his son.

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While most of the parents charged in the case took plea deals, Wilson went to trial and was found guilty by a federal jury in October 2021 of conspiracy to commit mail, wire and wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit bribery in federal programs; three counts of wire fraud and honest services fraud; two counts of federal program bribery; and a charge of submitting a false tax return. He was sentenced in February 2022 to 15 months in prison, two years of supervised release and 400 hours of community service. Wilson was also ordered to pay a $200,000 fine and $88,546 in restitution.

But in May 2023, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned all but one of Wilson's convictions. The three-judge panel in that case affirmed the conviction for filing a false tax return. In September 2023, he was sentenced to one year of supervised release, with the first six months to be served on home confinement and 250 hours of community service. Wilson was also ordered to pay a $75,000 fine and $88,546 in restitution.

“Now, we still face public condemnation. We look forward to turning public opinion about my family,” Wilson said.

Before Wilson's initial trial began, Netflix released the documentary “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” in March 2021. The film uses re-enactments and actors, and Wilson claims the portrayal in the film is inaccurate. According to Wilson, there are major differences between the photos of his son that were submitted to Netflix and what was depicted in the film.

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“They had a guy with a son and a photographer standing in the shallow end of the pool with a ball in his hand, pretending it was my son,” Wilson said. “I didn't do anything wrong. We made donations. (My children) worked hard and got all their credentials, and were qualified on their own. We didn't bribe anyone. We made donations to the schools, and let's see, their suffering has been devastating.”

Wilson is seeking financial damages from Netflix through his lawsuit, but court documents do not specify how much money he is seeking. According to Wilson, he spent $10 million fighting the charges in court.

NewsCenter 5 has reached out to Netflix for comment on Wilson's lawsuit, but has not yet received a response.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Previous coverage:

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