Lawsuit Claims Netflix Knowingly Misrepresented Innocent Victims in Infamous Varsity Blues Case

Seeking justice and accountability, John and Johnny Wilson challenge the media giant’s misrepresentation in “Operation Varsity Blues” documentary

BARNSTABLE, Mass., March 12, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — Following his exoneration of all the core charges falsely leveled at him as part of the infamous “Varsity Blues” cases, John Wilson and his son Johnny are now seeking accountability in court from media giant Netflix, Inc. for their knowingly false portrayal of him and his family in its defamatory documentary, “Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admission Scandal.” The family filed a complaint in Massachusetts Superior Court today, alleging that the entertainment company and its producers defamed them in their selective and misleading account of the Wilson family in this sensational celebrity cheating scandal.

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According to the lawsuit, as the sole initial defendant who lived in Massachusetts, Mr. Wilson was used as a “venue hook” by the Boston-based prosecutors to win turf battles with their California counterparts. “They were willing to charge an innocent man to help them justify bringing the trials for all the Hollywood celebrities and dozens of other West Coast defendants in this high-profile case — along with the career boosting media spotlights — to Boston.  Netflix also treated the Wilsons as mere collateral damage as they rushed their defamatory production out to a global audience of more than 600 million viewers in early 2021, poisoning public opinion and the jury pool months before Mr. Wilson’s trial even began,” says the Wilsons’ lead attorney, William Charles Tanenbaum.

The film, billed as a “documentary,” includes false depictions of Mr. Wilson and his son Johnny Wilson, and it intersperses Mr. Wilson’s words in between reenactments of other parents committing corrupt acts twenty-six times in the first 24 minutes. This cinematic sleight of hand tarred Mr. Wilson with the dirty brush of other parents’ bad actions. Shockingly, this was done despite a written warning from Mr. Wilson’s legal team to Netflix to avoid guilt-by-association or including any falsehoods in the film in the form of a 450+ page document, which pointed to the specific, publicly available record of the allegations and evidence underlying the charges against Mr. Wilson before the film’s publication. Unfortunately, Netflix totally disregarded the Wilsons’ concerns and deliberately depicted a narrative about the family that has been proven false in a court of law.

“Netflix willingly chose to group my highly qualified children and me into a scandal involving celebrities who, unlike me, pled guilty and acknowledged their roles in shameful actions like photoshopping images of fake athletes, cheating on tests and making bribe payments to coaches. In the interest of justice and accountability, Netflix must pay for the deliberate and devastating harm that they’ve done to my family,” said Mr. Wilson.

As alleged in the lawsuit, the film knowingly ignored the specific facts and allegations against Mr. Wilson and his children, who were all well qualified for admission to each school they applied to on their own hard-earned merits. Additionally, Johnny Wilson joined and participated on the University of Southern California (“USC“) water polo team in 2014 and was one of the fastest players on the USC team. Notably, none of the innuendos suggested by the Netflix film about the Wilsons were true or even consistent with what Netflix was informed about the government’s allegations and underlying facts against Mr. Wilson:

  • None of his children were alleged to have cheated (because they didn’t) and two earned perfect and near perfect scores on their ACT exams – contrary to what Netflix depicted.

  • All Mr. Wilson’s donations went to college foundations or IRS–approved charities, not to any coach or college employee’s personal accounts, contrary to Netflix.

  • The Wilsons met with the USC coaches and development team, received receipts for their donations, and USC has kept their donations to this day – contrary to what Netflix depicted.

  • Johnny Wilson held a world record in swimming, was pursued by multiple Division I water polo teams, and joined and participated on USC’s team – contrary to what Netflix depicted.

  • Johnny’s high school coach (himself a two-time NCAA MVP) recommended him to the USC coaches, and the Wilsons did not take any fake photos – contrary to what Netflix depicted.

To this date, Netflix has failed to update their film to indicate that Mr. Wilson was cleared of all the core charges against him, leaving viewers with the false impression that he committed fraud against USC and other colleges.

“Good faith news reporting deserves protection. What Netflix authorized in its ‘documentary’ deserves the opposite. Given Netflix’s industry leadership position, it is all the more shameful for them to have intentionally disregarded the truth about the Wilsons by perniciously depicting them as they did in their unfair, inaccurate, and mean-spirited narrative as it relates to the Wilsons,” said Mr. Tanenbaum.

The lawsuit alleges that Netflix superimposed Mr. Wilson’s name and voice over a scene depicting other actors photoshopping fake water polo photos of a non-athlete child, conduct that was never alleged against Mr. Wilson. 

According to the lawsuit, the film also played snippets of edited quotes from Mr. Wilson to totally distort the true meaning of the conversation from which the edited portions were taken. The filing describes one scene where only part of a quote from an FBI call with Mr. Wilson is featured, where he says, in the edited portion, that his daughters “don’t need to play the sport.” The Wilsons allege that Netflix intentionally deleted the next few seconds of that call, when Mr. Wilson goes on to say that they would be “scorekeepers” or team “managers.”

The lawsuit goes on to cite market research conducted by Lightbeam Communications on January 22, 2024, describing a focus group’s reaction to the film by stating “after watching the film, a majority of participants (who were Netflix subscribers selected randomly from all backgrounds and parts of the country) concluded that the Wilsons had cheated on the ACT tests; that Johnny Wilson was a fake athlete; that Mr. Wilson created fake photos of his son and that Mr. Wilson made bribe payments to individual coaches and administrators.” In response to these beliefs taken on by viewers of the documentary, the lawsuit references Mr. Wilson’s exoneration in the core charges against him as part of the Varsity Blues scandal in noting that “none of the conclusions drawn by viewers was true or even alleged to be true by the government against the Wilsons.”

“While justice has largely been restored in the court of law, exoneration is still needed in the court of public opinion, particularly as the Netflix film continues to falsely smear my family and shamefully misleads viewers to discredit the hard-earned accomplishments and talents of my innocent children,” John Wilson stated, emphasizing the impact of the erroneous portrayal on his and his family’s reputation. “We have suffered tremendous harm as Netflix chose sensationalism over accuracy, a deliberate choice which destroyed our reputations and grossly violated the ethics of documentary filmmaking as well as basic decency.”

The Wilson family has been devastated by the film’s defamation and is seeking legal redress, insisting that Netflix retract their false statements and issue public apologies. The lawsuit also requests monetary damages for the profound harm to their reputations and livelihoods.

Learn more about John’s story at

Media Contact: 
Matt Smith
[email protected]

SOURCE John Wilson

Lawsuit Claims Netflix Knowingly Misrepresented Innocent Victims in Infamous Varsity Blues Case

Originally published at



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