Longest Sentence Yet in College Admissions Scandal Handed Down

The longest sentence yet in the college admissions scandal was issued Wednesday as John Wilson, a former business executive and the founder of a private equity firm, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for giving $1.2 million in donations that were revealed to be bribes to get his three children admitted into prestigious colleges.

Wilson and another parent, Gamal Aziz, were found guilty last year for their roles in the scandal. Wilson's sentencing on Wednesday came a week after Aziz received a year in prison, according to Reuters.

Wilson was also fined $200,000 by U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston, ordered to pay over $88,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and to perform 400 hours of community service, Reuters reported. Wilson is one of dozens of parents and college officials who were charged in the admissions scandal code-named Operation Varsity Blues.

He was found guilty on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and fraud over donations of $220,000 to the University of Southern California in 2014 and $1 million in total to Harvard and Stanford in 2018 to ensure the admission of his son and two daughters at the three schools. He was also found guilty of filing a false tax return in which he listed one of the alleged bribes as a deductible donation, The New York Times reported.

Wilson's attorney Noel Francisco said they plan to appeal the conviction in a statement to Newsweek.

"John Wilson's case is fundamentally different from others in Varsity Blues. First, his children were well qualified for admissions on their own. His son was a strong student and a nationally competitive water polo player who actually participated on USC's water polo team during his freshman year. His daughters had perfect and near-perfect ACT scores," Francisco said.

"Second, none of John's money went to personally enrich anyone at the school; instead, his payments were for the schools and their athletic programs. Making a donation to improve a qualified applicant's chances of admission is a well-established process at colleges and universities across the country, and is still in use today. It is not a crime. We look forward to presenting a powerful appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals."

Dozens of Wilson's family members, friends and former colleagues wrote letters to the court requesting he be given a lenient sentence, citing the fact that they believe he is a kind man with a history of charitable efforts. Wilson's wife wrote in her letter that he was "manipulated" by William Singer, the California consultant accused of organizing the bribes, according to The Boston Globe.

However, prosecutors said Wilson "brazenly" committed the acts of fraud, and Gorton said in court that he was "dumbfounded and appalled" that someone with Wilson's history of charitable efforts would "cheat" his children's way into college, The Globe reported.

"I hope you and others get the message and spend the rest of your life and considerable good fortune making up for your egregious conduct," Gorton said, criticizing Wilson's continued claims of innocence and saying he should take responsibility for his actions, The Globe reported.

Update 2/16/22, 7:15 p.m. EST: This story has been updated with additional information and context, as well as a statement from Wilson's attorney.

John Wilson College Admissions Scandal Prison Sentence
John Wilson was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in prison for paying over $1 million in bribes to get his three children into colleges, the longest sentence yet related to the college admissions scandal. Above, a judge's gavel rests on top of a desk in the courtroom of the Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum on February 3, 2009, in Miami. Joe Raedle/Getty Images