Felicity Huffman is getting the most attention, but an admissions-bribery ring detailed in a federal indictment released today has some direct Boston-area ties as well.
Among those named in the indictment, charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud: John B. Wilson, 59 (in photo), with homes both in Lynnfield and on the Cape, who allegedly paid $1.2 million in bribes to get his children accepted to USC, Stanford and Harvard, based in part on athletic skills they didn't really have.
Also named and charged with the same crime: Manuel Henriquez, an Atherton, CA financial advisor who allegedly used his connections at Northeastern University - from which he graduated and formerly served on the University Corporation, one of the school's governing bodies - to help get somebody else's kid into school as a way of reducing his bribery payment to get his daughters into elite schools.
According to the indictment, Wilson started out by paying $220,000 in bribe money to secure his son a seat at USC, in part by paying off the school water-polo coach to name his son as a recruit for the team, which would rank him higher in admissions-office decisions. The only problem, as Wilson was allegedly caught confessing in e-mail: His son wasn't all that good at water polo.
The indictment quotes e-mail between Wilson and ringleader William “Rick” Singer, 58, of Newport Beach, CA, identified as Cooperating Witness-1, because at some point, Singer began cooperating with the feds:
On or about March 26, 2013, WILSON e-mailed CW-1 and asked, "Would the other kids know [my son] was a bench warmer side door person?" In a follow-up e-mail the next day, WILSON added: "So it sounds like even if [my son] practices all the time etc it will be known that he is a bench warming candidate? 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?"
CW-1 advised WILSON that his son would not actually be expected to play water polo for USC. On or about March 27, 2013, in response to an e-mail from WILSON about his son's commitment to the team "if he did the side door at USC," CW-1 replied: "Travel is only if he is playing so No- the commitment is to be on the roster not attend all practices but he will have to attend drug tests and other mandatory functions for 1 year then walk away/frankly after the 1st semester he can move on."
In an e-mail to CW-1 on or about August 24, 2013, WILSON inquired about the timing of his payments to Vavic to secure his son's admission as a purported water polo recruit. WILSON wrote: "What does Jovan need by [S]ept 20? Do u have what we need? Do I make the first payment to u then?" CW-1 responded, in substance, that he had everything he needed to send to Vavic "so he can add [your son] to his recruit list and present him to admissions in October." WILSON replied: "Great - let me know when u have verified u have it all completed and into Jovan. Also when and where to wire money."xxx In an e-mail exchange on or about October 3, 2013, Vavic advised CW-1 that he needed an athletic profile for WILSON's son and that it "needs to be a good resume." CW-1 subsequently provided Vavic with a falsified profile that included fabricated swimming times and awards.
In an e-mail exchange on or about January 21, 2014, Vavic asked CW-1 to confirm that WILSON's son was still interested in attending USC. CW-1 confirmed that WILSON's son was still interested and that the "family is ready to help." Vavic replied that he would present WILSON's son to the USC subcommittee for athletic admissions with his "top walkons."
On or about February 26, 2014, Vavic e-mailed a USC athletics administrator that WILSON's son "would be the fastest player on our team, he swims 50 y in 20 [seconds], my fastest players are around 22 [seconds], this kid can fly." CW-1 has advised that this purported performance figure, which was derived from the falsified athletic profile CW-1 provided Vavic, was fabricated.
WILSON's son was granted admission to USC as water polo recruit on or about February 28, 2014. USC mailed him a formal offer letter on or about March 26, 2014.
On or about March 1, 2014 - one day after the admissions decision - WILSON emailed CW-1 under the subject line "USC fees." WILSON wrote: Thanks again for making this happen! Pls give me the invoice. What are the options for the payment? Can we make it for consulting or whatever from the [K]ey [the alleged charity set up by the man the feds say was the ringleader of the whole scandal] so that I can pay it from the corporate account?
Wilson, the indictment continues, then paid even more - $500,000 - to get one daughter into Stanford and one into Harvard, this time by portraying them as seasoned sailors or crew rowers, even though neither were.
Based on the promise from the informant that the ruse would work just as well for his daughters, Wilson wired the $500,000 to an account set up in Massachusetts - by Singer, at the direction of federal agents - last October. The indictment then quotes a phone conversation the two had, in which the informant said:
So I had a conversation with the Stanford sailing coach and, so I just gave the Stanford sailing coach [$]160,000 for his program and while we were having that conversation I said, "Hey, I'm hoping that this 160 that I'm helping you with helps secure a spot for next year. Can I be guaranteed a spot for next year?” And he said, "Yes."
Wilson then paid another $500,000 to get his other daughter into Harvard. But at this point, Singer was just making stuff up - he claimed to have spoken to "the senior women’s administrator at Harvard," who would guarantee her a seat in exchange for a bribe.
The indictment does not say if the daughters actually got into Stanford and Harvard.
Henriquez and his wife are both charged with trying to get their two daughters into prestige schools. According to the indictment, though, Henriquez was able to waive some of the bribery payments by working his Northeastern connections to get somebody else's kid into Northeastern's College of Social Sciences and Humanities.
According to the indictment, Henriquez agreed to use his influence at Northeastern to win the student admission. Unfortunately for him, the person who was acting as bagman for the bribes was actually working for the feds as an informant in their investigation.
On or about October 26, 2016, in an e-mail to a senior development officer at Northeastern University, MANUEL HENRIQUEZ described the Northeastern applicant as an "excellent candidate for the College of Social Sciences and Humanities." MANUEL HENRIQUEZ then e-mailed CW-1 [Singer]: "Just confirmed with the university, have [the applicant] file [early decision] normal channels to get into the systems and make sure his application is complete. Then the folks I connected will flag it."
On or about November 1, 2016, MANUEL HENRIQUEZ met with the applicant in Atherton, California, and thereafter relayed details about the meeting to his contact at Northeastern. MANUEL HENRIQUEZ then followed up with CW-1: "I liked him very much, and just informed the school according[ly]. It is now in their hands, and they understand he is looking for [early decision], and I will reinforce early next week."
MANUEL HENRIQUEZ repeatedly followed up with Northeastern officials in Boston about the applicant's candidacy. The student was ultimately admitted to Northeastern. The applicant's parents paid CW-1 $250,000 after he was admitted.