Some Varsity Blues parents seek day in court
Wilson’s Netflix lawsuit hints at possible defense
OPERATION VARSITY BLUES keeps rolling along, as the US attorney’s office continues to rack up convictions using wiretap recordings of wealthy parents trying to buy “side door” access to elite colleges for their sons and daughters.
Elizabeth Kimmel, a California-based CEO, pleaded guilty on Monday to working with side door mastermind Rick Singer to pay $275,000 to facilitate her daughter’s admission to Georgetown University as a tennis recruit and $250,000 to facilitate her son’s admission to the University of Southern California as a pole vault recruit. In both cases, the children weren’t college-caliber athletes.
According to a spread sheet produced by the US attorney’s office, Kimmel was the 32nd parent to plead guilty in the case. She joins 13 others, including Singer, who have also pleaded guilty. One parent, Robert Zangrillo, got off with a pardon from former president Donald Trump.
Now the case may be moving in a different direction as some of the remaining defendants are indicating they won’t plead guilty and intend to go to trial next month. At a pre-trial hearing Wednesday, three defendants – John Wilson of Lynnfield; Marci Palatella of Hillsborough, California; and Gamal Abdelaziz of Las Vegas – signaled they want their day in court, which would force the US attorney’s office to actually convince a jury that they are guilty.
On paper, the Wilson case is similar to the others where the defendants pleaded guilty. There are damaging statements captured on the wiretaps of conversations with Singer. There is the allegation that USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic lied to school officials about the Wilson son’s ability to swim, saying he “would be the fastest player on our team.”
Most of the evidence against Wilson comes via Singer, who may be forced to testify if Wilson or any of the other remaining defendants end up going to trial. Another wild card is Vavic, who has been charged by the government but has insisted he is not guilty.
Wilson, who has already sued Netflix for including him in a documentary on the Varsity Blues case, shows no signs of backing down. In the lawsuit, he provides some clues as to how he will defend himself if the criminal case against him goes to court, including the fact he took a two-day polygraph test affirming his innocence.“Lacking the type of evidence of fraud or other willful wrongdoing that the government has against many of the other parents, the government’s case against Mr. Wilson is made up of out-of-context email fragments and a series of deliberately ambiguous sound bites, scripted by government agents over several months of set up calls with Singer,” the Netflix lawsuit says.
“Mr. Wilson is not accused of ‘photoshopping’ or staging photos for fake athletic profiles or making a payment to line the pockets of any athletic coach or other university employee in order to gain admission to a prestigious college or university. Rather, Mr. Wilson is accused of making payments which Singer and others assured him were legitimate donations, in order to assist with (but not guarantee) the admission of his very qualified children to their preferred universities,” the lawsuit says. “Employing a completely novel legal theory which stretches the definition of ‘bribery’ beyond all recognition, the government has chosen to label these payments as ‘bribes.’”