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‘I’ll make them a sailor or something’: Recorded phone call takes spotlight at Varsity Blues college admissions trial

Testimony in Varsity Blues trial focuses on recorded phone conversation between Lynnfield father and the architect of the bribery scheme, William “Rick” Singer.

John Wilson, center, holds his wife's hand, right, as he leaves the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse after the first day of his trial in the college admissions scandal, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)Stew Milne/Associated Press

On Wednesday, the third day of testimony in the first trial of the national college admissions scandal, jurors heard a long conversation between John B. Wilson, a Lynnfield parent, and William “Rick” Singer, a California college admissions consultant and architect of the bribery scheme.

Wilson, 62, founder of Hyannis Port Capital, a real estate and private equity firm, is accused of paying Singer more than $1.7 million between 2014 and 2018 to have his son admitted to the University of Southern California as a water polo recruit, and his twin daughters admitted to Stanford University and Harvard University as fake sailing recruits.


Another parent, Gamal Abdelaziz, 64, of Las Vegas, a former Wynn Resorts executive, is accused of paying $300,000 to Singer in 2018 to have his daughter admitted to USC as a purported basketball recruit.

Defense lawyers have told jurors the men believed the donations were legal.

Singer, who is now cooperating with federal prosecutors, told some parents there were two ways to secure their children spots at highly selective schools. They could make large donations to the schools, which he called the “back door.” But he offered them a “side door,” which was guaranteed and cost less money as he funneled payments from a bogus charity to corrupt athletic coaches and administrators who designated his clients’ children as fake athletic recruits, prosecutors allege.

In a Sept. 15, 2018, call, secretly recorded by FBI agents who had tapped Singer’s cellphone, Singer gives Wilson advice on the college prospects for his twin daughters, who were high school juniors.

Listen to their conversation, or read a transcript of a portion of it below.

Wilson: “So what kinda deals is it there? Is it like, you know ... water polo and uh donation or what is it like, you know if you get into that?”


Singer: “So pick a place you wanna go.”

Wilson: “...If you did a Harvard or Princeton or Georgetown, you know what are those things?”

Singer: “So Harvard ... it’s usually about $1.2 [million].”

Wilson: “Jesus”

Singer: “Stanford is $1.2. Um, but you know the back door is, Harvard’s asking for $45 million.”

Wilson: (laughter) “Good God.”

Singer: “Stanford’s asking for $50 million.”

Wilson: “Wow.”

Singer: “And they’re gettin’ it. That’s the crazy thing. They’re gettin’ it. From the Bay Area and from New York. Crazy.”

Wilson: “Wow.”

Singer: “Crazy, absolutely crazy.”

Wilson: “Jeez, what about, what about like Georgetown or those other ones.”

Singer: “Yeah so Georgetown’s like 500, BC’s same thing. Um, so you know those are your k- kind of your numbers across the board at different places you know, USC hasn’t changed, um UCLA can be done, for about three, um, you know public schools are really hard in California, because everybody’s watchin’ ‘em.”

Wilson: “M-hum.”

They discussed what colleges might be a good fit for his daughters and their chances of getting in. Singer said Stanford University would be the best.

Wilson: “That’s the cat’s meow yeah. You’re saying that’s a minimum of a 1.2 on the side door?”

Singer: “Yep.”

Wilson: “What sports would be best for them? Is crew the the best, even, you’re talking about the Ivies and stuff like that, or is that not gonna even matter?”

Singer: “They — oh for me? It doesn’t matter. I, I’ll make them a sailor or something. Because of where you live.” [Wilson has a home in Hyannis Port]


Wilson: (Laughs) “That’s probably more than I wanna go for. Is there a two for one special? If you got twins?”

Later in the conversation, they talk about how much advantage students are given if they are legacy applicants or athletic recruits and refer to Wilson’s son, John Wilson Jr., who was admitted to USC in 2014 as a water polo recruit.

Singer: “At the end of the day, it’s easier if — you know, the easiest way as you know, is being a student athlete because you can, you can ov-, you overlap and overplay the urn, the ah legacy.”

Wilson: “Yeah.”

Singer: “‘Cause the-the athlete gets first priority.”

Wilson: “The athlete gets first priority and then the legacy will help...”

Singer: “Yep.”

Wilson: “Some additional side door money, or do you have to do all three?”

Singer: “Um.”

Wilson: “Or you can try with just the first two?”

Singer: “Well ya-, if you just try the athlete side, and you were using the side door with the athlete it’s a done deal. Just like with John.”

Wilson: “Right but you’re saying athletes side, even as an alumni is essentially 1.2?”

Singer: “Absolutely.”

Wilson: “But if your...”

Singer: “Guy’s giving up his spot, he’s, they’re not a good enough athlete, to compete with.”

Wilson: “What would have to be in terms of crew. I guess, everything being a good enough athlete.”


Singer: “They have to be one of, they have to be one of the best in the country. They have to be row...”

Wilson: “So you have to be top times.”

Singer: “They gotta have to have top times and be rowing at The Head of the Charles, which is coming up, and they gotta go to Nationals, and they gotta compete.”

Wilson: “Yep, so you gotta be top, tops in the nation.”

Singer: “You gotta, yeah, they can get whoever they want.”

Wilson: “And they only get so many slots you get to fill.”

Singer: “That’s the problem, that’s the problem.”

Wilson: “Yeah. Yeah, that is a big issue. [Laughter] Oh my God, and is that ah, are those numbers, are there anyway to make those like tax deductible as like donations to the school and stuff? How does that work?”

Singer: “They’re all tax, it’s all tax deductible, it’s going into a nonprofit, 501.3.c., it’s all, it’s all tax deductible, everyone, every piece of it.”

The trial resumes Friday.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her @shelleymurph.