Wealthy dad gets 15 months for bribing his kids' way into elite universities

The prison term was the longest yet in Operation Varsity Blues case involving 57 defendants

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A wealthy father nabbed in the Operation Varsity Blues college admissions scandal was hit Wednesday with 15 months in federal prison for paying hefty bribes to get his children into elite universities —marking the stiffest sentence yet handed down in the case.

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John Wilson, who heads a Massachusetts private equity firm, rolled the dice in front of a jury and was convicted in October of bribery, fraud and conspiracy for forking over $1.2 million to get his three kids into college by pretending they were Division I athletes.

Investor John Wilson, left, arrives at federal court in Boston with his wife Leslie, in April 2019,  to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. 

Investor John Wilson, left, arrives at federal court in Boston with his wife Leslie, in April 2019,  to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.  (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Wilson was found guilty alongside co-defendant Gamal Abdelaziz — the only two parents charged in the case to take their chances at trial. 

Abdelaziz was sentenced earlier this month to one year and one day in federal prison for paying $300,000 to get his daughter into USC by falsely claiming she was a star basketball player. 

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston handed down both sentences. 

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Wilson, the founder of Hyannis Port Capital, got less than the 21 months that Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Stearns argued for in court filings, citing the size of the bribe and his more extensive involvement in the scheme. 

His lawyer, Michael Kendall, said he planned to appeal.

Gamal Abdelaziz, left, and John Wilson.

Gamal Abdelaziz, left, and John Wilson. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Wilson, a former Staples executive, paid $200,000 to falsely brand his son as a University of Southern California water polo recruit and another $1 million to secure his twin daughters’ admissions into Harvard and Stanford.

Prosecutors argued in court papers that Wilson has shown no remorse for his conduct. "Wilson’s failure to accept responsibility remains strident, and his brazen disregard for the truth continues," wrote Stearns.

The prosecutor pointed to a secretly recorded phone call between Wilson and Rick Singer, the admissions consultant at the center of the scheme, in which the pair discussed a plan to get his second daughter into Stanford by pretending she’s a sailor. 

Wilson laughed when Singer said that the coach couldn’t do it because "he actually has to recruit some real sailors."

Lawyers for the two dads argued at trial that they thought they were making legitimate donations and had no idea that Singer was using their payments as bribes or faking their children’s athletic credentials.
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Wilson and Abdelaziz are among nearly 60 people charged in the sprawling case that ensnared parents, coaches and athletic directors at some of the country’s top schools.

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More than 30 parents have pleaded guilty — including "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman, "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin and Loughlin’s designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli.

Huffman got 14 days in prison, Loughlin two months and her husband five months.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.