Follow CBSMIAMI.COM: Facebook | Twitter
MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) – A Miami real estate developer is among those charged Tuesday in a sweeping, national college bribery case in which wealthy parents are accused of bribing college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country.
Actresses Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman were named in the indictment.
United States Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling called this the “largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.”
The scheme began in 2011. Defendants with high school-aged children who were applying to college allegedly “conspired with others to use bribery and other forms of fraud to facilitate their children’s admission to colleges and universities” in Massachusetts and elsewhere including Yale, Stanford, University of Texas, University of Southern California and UCLA.
The alleged mastermind behind the scheme, 58-year-old William “Rick” Singer, will plead guilty to a variety of charges for organizing the scheme, which investigators dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” Singer is the owner of a college counseling service called Key Worldwide Foundation
Parents would pay Singer between $15,000-$75,000 to either have someone take the standardized test for their children or have someone correct the answers after the fact.
According to the United States Attorney for Massachusetts, Miami resident Robert Zangrillo is among those charged. He allegedly conspired to bribe athletic department officials at the University of Southern California to designate his daughter as an athletic recruit to facilitate her admission.
Zangrillo, founder and CEO of a Miami-based private investment firm Dragon Global, is charged with Conspiracy to Commit Mail Fraud and Honest Mail Services, according to prosecutors.
According to the complaint filed in the Southern District of Florida, Zangrillo paid a bribe to get his daughter into the University of Southern California in 2017 after her initial college application was rejected.
Zangrillo reportedly paid a ‘cooperating witness’ to have someone secretly take classes for his daughter and submit those grades on a new application to USC, according to the indictment.
Zangrillo is accused of working with the ‘cooperating witness’ who convinced him that he could secure his daughter’s admission to USC as a transfer student by arranging for her to be recruited onto the USC crew team, even though she did not row competitively.
According to the indictment, Zangrillo’s daughter’s “transfer application was submitted to USC on or about February 1, 2018. In contrast to her earlier application, which made no reference to rowing, the second application falsely stated that she rowed crew at a club for an average of 44 hours per week for 15 weeks per year, and that she was taking classes at a number of schools, including Santa Monica College, Rio Salado College, and the University of Colorado at Boulder.”
Zangrillo was told by the ‘cooperating witness’ that the USC crew coach had agreed to designate his daughter as a recruit, provided that “[y]ou guys help us.”
Court documents list the coach as saying, “Okay, I will take her. You guys help us, we’ll help you.”
In September, 2018, Zangrillo reportedly wired $200,000 to one of the KWF charitable accounts and mailed a check for $50,000 to the “USC Women’s Athletics,” according to the indictment.
“Make no mistake this is not case where parents were working in the best interest of their children. This is a case where they flaunted their wealth, sparing no expense to cheat the system so they could set their children up for success with the best education money could buy, literally,” said FBI agent Joseph Bonavolonta.
Nine college coaches, two SAT/ACT administrators, one test proctor, one administrator, and 33 parents are now facing charges. Huffman and Loughlin are among those charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
“These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.
Those charged included several athletic coaches.
“For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected,” Lelling said.
The racketeering conspiracy charges were brought against coaches at schools including Wake Forest, Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.
WATCH A CLIP OF THE NEWS CONFERENCE HERE:
Lelling said it was the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.
Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, tennis and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience.
The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid the founder of the Edge College & Career Network approximately $25 million to get their children into college.
Loughlin appeared in the ABC sitcom “Full House,” and Huffman starred in ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”
According to prosecutors, a cooperating witness told Huffman he controlled a testing center and would arrange for a third party to proctor her daughter’s SAT and secretly correct her answers afterward. Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 for her oldest daughter and began the process for her second child but ultimately abandoned the plan because she was worried a fixed score would “set off alarm bells.”
Loughlin and her husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, allegedly agreed to pay bribes totaling $500,000 to have their daughters designated as recruits for the USC crew team, even though they did not participate in crew. Both of the couple’s daughters were accepted to USC.
Giannulli has also been charged.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)