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A Massachusetts private equity and real estate executive ensnared in the so-called “Varsity Blues” college admission case filed a lawsuit against Netflix this week over his portrayal in the streamer’s documentary about the scandal.
John B. Wilson was one of the original 33 parents charged when news of the elaborate scam broke in 2019. Wealthy parents were accused of paying William “Rick” Singer hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their teenage children into the most elite U.S. colleges, including the University of Southern California, Yale, Stanford, and Georgetown. Wilson's suit alleges that the Netflix film represents the “ultimate destruction of his reputation” in the eyes of 200 million subscribers to the platform.
Wilson is accused of wiring Singer’s organization, Key Worldwide Foundation, $500,000 in 2018 as part of the admissions scheme. He has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges including fraud, bribery, money laundering and filing a false tax return, and is scheduled to stand trial in September, according to the Department of Justice.
Wilson, his wife, Leslie Wilson, and son John. B. Wilson, Jr,. filed the defamation lawsuit against Netflix and the filmmakers on Tuesday in the Superior Court in Essex, MA, weeks after the streaming platform’s release of “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal”, a hybrid documentary-reenactment of the events that led up to the Justice Department handing down dozens of indictments in March 2019. The suit claims that the Wilson's family is unfairly lumped in with other defendants in the scandal who have pleaded guilty. Unlike those defendants, the complaint states, the Wilsons were acting in good faith.
John. B. Wilson, Jr. was a “real and talented” water polo player and part of the U.S. Olympic development program, the suit states, and Wilson’s two daughters had 99th percentile test scores — “based on tests that they took themselves." The complaint alleges that all of this information was provided to Netflix ahead of the film’s release.
“The Wilson family literally warned them in writing of the specific, publicly available and fully exculpatory facts surrounding the charges against Mr. Wilson and made clear that Mr. Wilson and his children could not simply be grouped into a narrative about the many individuals who, unlike Mr. Wilson, have pled guilty to committing crimes,” the suit reads.
News footage of Wilson appears in the film as the case is discussed and he’s portrayed in reenactments by actor Roger Rignack. In the latter scenes, he’s portrayed speaking with Singer, played by Matthew Modine. The two discuss the cost of using the so-called “side-door” Singer had developed for getting into the elite schools and asking if his kids “have to play the sport,” before finalizing a deal to gain them admission and inviting Singer to Paris. Later, the portrayal shows him being arrested in his home.
The suit claims that Wilson was referred to Singer by a “world-renowned financial advisory firm,” that said he was a highly reputable admissions counselor and implied that his services were “fully legitimate.” Singer’s services were “in order to assist with (but not guarantee) the admission of his very qualified children to their preferred universities.”
The Wilson family’s lawsuit is seeking apologies and retractions from Netflix as well as unspecified damages from both the streamer and the movie’s producer, Jon Karmen, and its director, Chris Smith.
Netflix did not immediately respond to Oxygen.com’s request for comment on Thursday.
Since the scandal broke, more than 20 parents and coaches have so far been sentenced in the widespread conspiracy.
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