Operation Varsity Blues keeps rolling along, as the US attorney’s office continues to rack up convictions using wiretap recordings of wealthy parents trying to buy “side door” access to elite colleges for their sons and daughters.
Elizabeth Kimmel, a California-based CEO, pleaded guilty on Monday to working with side door mastermind Rick Singer to pay $275,000 to facilitate her daughter’s admission to Georgetown University as a tennis recruit and $250,000 to facilitate her son’s admission to the University of Southern California as a pole vault recruit. In both cases, the children weren’t college-caliber athletes.
According to a spread sheet produced by the US attorney’s office, Kimmel was the 32nd parent to plead guilty in the case. She joins 13 others, including Singer, who have also pleaded guilty. One parent, Robert Zangrillo, got off with a pardon from former president Donald Trump.
Now the case may be moving in a different direction as some of the remaining defendants are indicating they won’t plead guilty and intend to go to trial next month. At a pre-trial hearing Wednesday, three defendants – John Wilson of Lynnfield; Marci Palatella of Hillsborough, California; and Gamal Abdelaziz of Las Vegas – signaled they want their day in court, which would force the US attorney’s office to actually convince a jury that they are guilty.
Wilson, a prominent business executive who currently heads Hyannis Port Capital, is accused of conspiring to bribe the USC water polo coach to get his son a slot on the team and admission to the school. He is also accused of paying a total of $1 million to Singer for side-door access for his daughters to gain admission to Stanford and Harvard.
On paper, the Wilson case is similar to the others where the defendants pleaded guilty. There are damaging statements captured on the wiretaps of conversations with Singer. There is the allegation that USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic lied to school officials about the Wilson son’s ability to swim, saying he “would be the fastest player on our team.”
Most of the evidence against Wilson comes via Singer, who may be forced to testify if Wilson or any of the other remaining defendants end up going to trial. Another wild card is Vavic, who has been charged by the government but has insisted he is not guilty.
Wilson, who has already sued Netflix for including him in a documentary on the Varsity Blues case, shows no signs of backing down. In the lawsuit, he provides some clues as to how he will defend himself if the criminal case against him goes to court, including the fact he took a two-day polygraph test affirming his innocence.
“Lacking the type of evidence of fraud or other willful wrongdoing that the government has against many of the other parents, the government’s case against Mr. Wilson is made up of out-of-context email fragments and a series of deliberately ambiguous sound bites, scripted by government agents over several months of set up calls with Singer,” the Netflix lawsuit says.
“Mr. Wilson is not accused of ‘photoshopping’ or staging photos for fake athletic profiles or making a payment to line the pockets of any athletic coach or other university employee in order to gain admission to a prestigious college or university. Rather, Mr. Wilson is accused of making payments which Singer and others assured him were legitimate donations, in order to assist with (but not guarantee) the admission of his very qualified children to their preferred universities,” the lawsuit says. “Employing a completely novel legal theory which stretches the definition of ‘bribery’ beyond all recognition, the government has chosen to label these payments as ‘bribes.’”
Foster care aid available: The federal government made millions of dollars available to current and former foster children to help them cope with COVID, but finding former foster children is proving difficult and access to the money will be cut off at the end of next month. So far, $1.1 million has been paid to 339 former foster children in Massachusetts. The money can only be used for specific expenses, so a young person must apply with a particular need, like rent payments, utility bills, transportation, or technology. Read more.
Poll finds mask support: A new poll from the MassINC Polling Group suggests 81 percent of Massachusetts registered voters strongly support or somewhat support requiring masks in schools this fall. Gov. Charlie Baker has refused to mandate mask-wearing in schools, leaving the decision to local officials, but on Wednesday he said he expected most unvaccinated students to wear masks this fall. Read more.
Baker backs $1b UI bailout: The governor submits a supplemental budget using $1 billion to replenish the state’s unemployment insurance fund and ease financial pressure on businesses that will be forced to cover the deficit over the next 20 years. Business groups applauded the move, but urged Beacon Hill to also use federal aid to buttress the fund. Read more.
EJ rep urged for T board: Rep. Adrian Madaro of Boston, Karen Chen of the Chinese Progressive Association, and Maria Belen Power of GreenRoots call on Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint a resident of an environmental justice community to the new MBTA board. The authors recommend either Khalida Smalls of Alternatives for Community and Environment or Rafael Mares of The Neighborhood Developers. Read more.
Adjunct adulation: Lawrence Overlan and Kristine Glynn urge universities to provide better pay and job security to adjunct professors, who they describe as a key backbone of a practical education. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Gov. Charlie Baker says he expects to pursue soon some type of vaccine mandate for all state employees. (Boston Globe)
A report identifies Vineyard Haven – a community on Martha’s Vineyard – as the most expensive community in America. (MassLive)
Acting Mayor Kim Janey faced heat from Boston city councilors at their weekly meeting yesterday on everything from vaccine policy to the administration’s record of ignoring public record requests. (Boston Herald)
Secretary of the CommonWealth Bill Galvin suggests that population loss and slower growth in Western Massachusetts compared to the rest of the state over the past decade is due to a lack of economic opportunities. Galvin said the state should put more resources into developing the Western Massachusetts economy. (MassLive)
US health officials recommend COVID booster shots for all Americans eight months after their second dose. Third doses could start being administered the week of September 20. (Associated Press)
WBUR explores the law shielding health care providers from COVID-related lawsuits and why litigation would be a long-shot, if not an impossibility.
Steve Koczela, an Iraq war veteran and the president of the MassINC Polling Group, writes that there is a painful truth about the US war there and in Afghanistan. “Taken in full, the wars after Sept. 11 have been a generational error of vast proportions and consequences,” he says. “The dead lie in judgment of our failure. The living carry the burden of our participation in something that turns out to have been pointless.” (Boston Globe)
Michelle Wu wins the endorsement of more than 100 Latino leaders in her race for mayor of Boston. (Boston Globe)
Boston quickly added five additional early-voting sites for the mayoral election in the face of widespread outcry over the omissions, including from mayoral candidate John Barros who said he doubted the lack of a site in the original plan in his home Dorchester ZIP code was a coincidence. (Boston Herald)
Channel 5’s public affairs show “On The Record” has invited all four women candidates for mayor of Boston to appear in the coming days, but not John Barros, the only Black man in the race, who has lagged behind in polling. (Boston Globe)
Boston City Councilor Lydia Edwards, whose district includes East Boston, Charlestown, and the North End, said she’ll run for the state Senate seat now held by Winthrop’s Joe Boncore should he land the post he is a finalist for running the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. (Boston Globe)
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration will seek $1.3 million in fines from a Wayland contractor for repeated workplace safety violations following the February death of two workers on a sewer repair project in downtown Boston. (Boston Globe)
More than half the public colleges in Massachusetts are using part of their federal COVID aid to cover millions in unpaid balances that students owe them. (GBH)
The diocese of Boston and Springfield will not mandate masks in Catholic schools. (MassLive)
Delta becomes the second airline to announce its return to Worcester Regional Airport, after a COVID-related hiatus, with flights to New York. (Telegram & Gazette)
Gov. Charlie Baker says all prison cell extractions should be videotaped, his first public comments in response to a Globe Spotlight Team report on allegations that two inmates were beaten when removed from their cell in an action that was not video recorded, in violation of Department of Correction policy. (Boston Globe)
A federal judge dismisses a lawsuit brought by members of Rise of the Moors arrested in a highway standoff challenging the state court’s jurisdiction over their prosecution. (Associated Press)
USA Today looks at what impact police reforms have actually had in New England – and how quickly reform is being implemented.
The Boston Globe urges newspapers around the county to follow its lead in writing editorials supporting the need for vaccinations and dispelling some of the myths about them. (Media Nation)
Newly named “Jeopardy!” host Mike Richards made disparaging comments about women, Jews, and Haiti on a podcast he hosted in 2013 and 2014. (The Ringer)