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Press Release

Former Senior Executive in College Admissions Case Sentenced for Tax Fraud in Connection with Payments to Secure Son’s Admission to USC

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts

BOSTON – A private-equity investor and former senior Staples executive was sentenced today in federal court in Boston for falsely claiming payments he made to secure the admission of his son to the University of Southern California (USC) were deductible from his taxes as a business expense and a charitable contribution. 

John Wilson, 64, of Lynnfield, Mass., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Leo T. Sorokin to one year of probation, with the first six months to be served in home detention, and 250 hours of community service. Wilson was also ordered to pay a fine of $75,000 and restitution in the amount of $88,546.

In October 2021, Wilson was convicted by a federal jury of one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery; three counts of wire fraud and honest services wire fraud; two counts of federal programs bribery; and one count of filing a false tax return. He was subsequently sentenced in February 2022 to 15 months in prison, two years of supervised release, 400 hours of community service and ordered to pay a fine of $200,000 and restitution in the amount of $88,546. 

In May 2023, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction for filing a false tax return and vacated and remanded the remaining counts of conviction. 

According to evidence presented at trial, in 2013, Wilson agreed to pay William “Rick” Singer $220,000 to facilitate his son’s admission to USC as a purported water polo recruit in exchange for payments to the water polo team account. Wilson requested that Singer provide him with a fake invoice for business consulting fees so that he could make the payments using his private investment firm’s corporate account. Wilson asked, “Can we make it for consulting or whatever from The Key so that I can pay it from the corporate account?” After Wilson’s son was accepted to USC, Wilson used his firm’s corporate account to wire $100,000 to Singer’s sham charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, $100,000 to Singer’s for-profit company, The Key, and $20,000 directly to Singer. Wilson falsely deducted part of the payments as a business expense and the remainder as a charitable contribution. In 2018, Wilson approached Singer again about securing the admission of his two daughters to college as purported athletic recruits in sports they did not play at the collegiate level. Wilson once again asked Singer whether there was “any way” to make the payments “tax deductible as like donations to the school.”  

On Jan. 4, 2023, Singer was sentenced to 42 months in prison after previously pleading guilty. 

Further information on the College Admissions Case is available here:

Acting United States Attorney Joshua S. Levy; Jodi Cohen, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; Harry Chavis, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations in Boston; and Terry Harris, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General Eastern Regional Office made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen E. Frank, Leslie A. Wright, Kristen A. Kearney and Ian Stearns of the Securities, Financial & Cyber Fraud Unit prosecuted the case.

Updated September 29, 2023