Trojan Horse: How A Mass. Businessman Allegedly Faked His Son's Way Into USC

A USC water polo player prepares to pass in a 2005 game. (Ralph Wilson/AP)
A USC water polo player prepares to pass in a 2005 game. (Ralph Wilson/AP)

Before he allegedly paid a $220,000 bribe to secure his son's admission to the University of Southern California, John Wilson had a question: "Would the other kids know [my son] was a bench warmer side door person?"

Wilson, founder of the private equity firm Hyannis Port Capital and the lone Massachusetts parent charged in a sprawling college admissions scandal, wanted his son to pose as a water polo recruit, according to court documents. But Wilson worried that his son would be a "clear misfit at practice" among his fellow Trojans, who at the time had won five straight national championships.

William "Rick" Singer, a college counselor who allegedly orchestrated the admissions scheme and pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges Tuesday, assured Wilson that his son would have to keep up the ruse for only a short time.

"[F]rankly after the 1st semester he can move on," wrote "Cooperating Witness 1" in a March 2013 email included in an FBI affidavit. The description of that witness matches Singer.

The affidavit details how Wilson, a former executive at Bain & Co. and Staples, allegedly exploited an admissions system that often relaxes academic standards for promising athletes.

Singer allegedly used some of Wilson's money to pay off Jovan Vavic, the USC men's water polo coach at the time. Vavic did not offer Wilson's son an athletic scholarship but allegedly agreed to lobby for his admission as a high-level walk-on.

According to the affidavit, Vavic falsely told a university administrator in a February 2014 email that Wilson's son "would be the fastest player on our team"; Wilson's son was admitted as a water polo recruit two days later.

Wilson's son quit the team after a single semester, as Singer had said he could, according to the affidavit.

Four years later, Wilson allegedly sought Singer's help to get his two daughters into Harvard and Stanford as athletic recruits. By then, however, Singer was cooperating with the FBI, which recorded his phone conversations with Wilson.

In an October 2018 call, Singer — acting at the direction of law enforcement agents — laid out options for Wilson's daughters, and allegedly said they "don’t have to play. They just — that’s the path I’m gonna get ’em in on."


Headshot of Callum Borchers

Callum Borchers Reporter
Callum covered the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.



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