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Tech venture capitalist charged in massive college entrance cheating scam

Key Points
  • Founder and CEO at venture capital firm Dragon Global, that invests in Facebook, Twitter, and Uber, is one of 40 people charged in a $25 million college entrance cheating scheme.
  • Robert Zangrillo allegedly bribed the University of Southern California crew coach to help admit his daughter.
  • Zangrillo also allegedly paid someone to take classes on behalf of his daughter to earn a higher grade.
Bob Zangrillo
Romain Maurice | Getty Images

The founder and CEO at tech venture capital firm Dragon Global is one of 40 people charged in a $25 million college entrance cheating scheme.

The criminal complaint includes a bunch of business executives and two high-profile actresses that allegedly used their wealth and influence to get their children admitted into top colleges, law enforcement officials say.

Robert Zangrillo's private investment firm, headquartered in Miami, focuses on venture capital and real estate investments. Dragon Global's website says its funds have managed investments of more than $1 billion in companies that now have over $500 billion market value, including Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Jet.com and Ulta.

After Zangrillo's daughter was initially rejected from the University of Southern California in 2017, Zangrillo allegedly conspired to bribe athletic department officials of the USC crew team to label his daughter an athletic recruit, despite his daughter never rowing competitively, according to the criminal complaint.

"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," the court documents stated.

In a wiretapped call, a cooperating witness told Zangrillo that the USC crew coach agreed to back Zangrillo's daughter as a recruit of the crew team and help get her admitted as a transfer student.

"Crew coach got on the phone with me, said, 'Okay, I will take her. You guys help us, we'll help you. I'll take
her, I just need her to finish all these credits and all the-- all of her classes'," the cooperating witness said in a phone call with Zangrillo.

The crew coach later told the cooperating witness in an email that she didn't end up including Zangrillo's daughter as a recruit but instead "advocated for her" and placed her "on our VIP list for transfers."

USC accepted Zangrillo's daughter with the parameter that she maintain a 3.3 GPA or higher in at least 12 class units with no grade lower than a C.

Zangrillo had the cooperating witness's employee, Mikaela Sanford, secretly take classes for his daughter that she had originally failed.

Following this, Zangrillo wired $200,000 to one of the Key Worldwide Foundation charitable accounts, the foundation of William Singer who was identified by authorities as the ringleader of the scheme.

Around the same time, Zangrillo mailed a check in the amount of $50,000 to "USC Women's Athletics."

Other business executives charged are the CEO of Hercules Technology Growth Capital, the former CEO of PIMCO, and CEO of real-estate development firm Crown Realty & Development.

Actresses Felicity Huffman, who starred in ABC's "Desperate Houswives," and Lori Loughlin, who appeared in ABC's "Full House," were also charged.

Dragon Global could not be reached for comment.

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