Records Reportedly Show that USC Has a Habit of Counting Rich Parents’ Money

Attorneys for a parent embroiled in the scandal claim their client’s donation to the school’s athletic department wasn’t a crime—it was protocol

Lawyers for a father indicted in the college admissions scandal argued in court yesterday that USC’s own internal documents prove that making exorbitant donations to USC in order to give their kids a leg up in the admissions process is par for the course at the troubled university, Bloomberg reports.

Miami developer Robert Zangrillo is accused of paying $250,000 for a surrogate to take an online art course for his daughter after she failed it, and prosecutors say he gave the USC athletic department $50,000 to have her admitted. Zangrillo’s lawyers said in a court filing yesterday that their evidence will, “undermine the mythology that a donation to a USC athletic department somehow is proof of any element of a federal crime.” The evidence they submitted includes a spreadsheet that charts applicants’ donations, connections, and SAT scores.

Although USC claims that the admissions office doesn’t track applicant donations, Zangrillo’s lawyers cited a list of “special interest” candidates from 2012 to 2015. The list includes notes such as, “$3 mil to Men’s Golf-Thailand,” “$15 mil” and “previously donated $25K to Heritage Hall.”

The lawyers say that 80 percent of the “special interest” candidates got accepted, while pointing out that the acceptance rate for the general public hit a new low of 11 percent this year. Zangrillo’s attorneys are asking the court for USC admissions documents covering 2015 to 2019 for their review. USC is fighting that request, calling it “a fishing expedition.”

Dean of Admission Timothy Brunold disputed the 80 percent figure, saying in a deposition that USC rejects “the majority” of “special interest” students.

“The fact that the $50,000 check from Mr. Zangrillo appears to have been provided as part of a regular university-wide practice of accepting donations from families of prospective students and conferring a corresponding benefit upon those students in the admission process supports an argument that the payment was merely a donation, not an illicit bribe,” the defense said.

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