A Lynnfield man charged in the “Varsity Blues” college admissions cheating scandal has filed a defamation lawsuit against Netflix over his portrayal in the company’s documentary series on the case, which uses actor recreations of certain moments related to the high-profile legal saga.
The suit was filed by attorneys for John B. Wilson and his family in Essex Superior Court. Netflix didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the Wilsons’ civil complaint, which seeks unspecified damages.
Wilson, a 61-year-old investor, faces a criminal indictment in federal court in Boston charging him with several crimes for his alleged role in the cheating scheme, including filing a false tax return, money laundering conspiracy, and federal programs bribery, legal filings show. He has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial.
Prosecutors allege Wilson in 2013 agreed to pay the scam’s mastermind, William “Rick” Singer, $220,000 to secure Wilson’s son’s acceptance to the University of Southern California as a purported water polo recruit. And in 2018, the indictment alleges, Wilson agreed to pay Singer $1.5 million to facilitate his twin daughters’ admissions to Stanford and Harvard.
But in Wilson’s complaint against Netflix, his lawyers maintain that he’s innocent of all charges and unfairly grouped in with several other well-known defendants in the case who’ve pleaded guilty in the TV series, entitled ”Operation Varsity Blues.”
The Wilsons’ complaint names Netflix, 241C FILMS, and filmmakers Chris Smith and Jon Karmen as defendants, among other entities.
The complaint says that prior to the series airing, the Wilsons warned Netflix “in writing of the specific, publicly available and fully exculpatory facts surrounding the charges against Mr. Wilson and made clear that Mr. Wilson and his children could not simply be grouped into a narrative about the many individuals who, unlike Mr. Wilson, have pled guilty to committing crimes.”
Among other things, the complaint says, “the Wilsons made clear . . . that Mr. Wilson’s son was a real and talented water polo player who was part of the United States Olympic development program, that his daughters had 99th percentile test scores based on tests that they themselves took, and other publicly available exculpatory information, all of which the Wilsons provided to Defendants.”
The Wilsons also provided the lawsuit defendants with results of an extensive polygraph exam that John Wilson “uniformly passed,” the complaint says.
“Yet, Netflix and the other Defendants knowingly and recklessly ignored those facts and painted the Wilsons with the broadest and dirtiest brush possible,” the complaint says. “They included the Wilson family in the broad and sweeping allegations of misconduct made by the government against other ‘Varsity Blues’ defendant parents who have admitted their guilt in court and who are not going to trial.”