When Miami developer Robert Zangrillo allegedly agreed to spend $200,000 to forge his daughter’s academic records, prosecutors claimed he did so by pretending the money was a donation to “programs that handle underserved kids.”
The real estate executive has been named as one of the dozens charged in a national college admissions scandal that led to arrests of Hollywood celebrities, school officials, a high-powered attorney at a national law firm and other wealthy parents.
Zangrillo is among about 50 defendants charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud for his alleged participation in a scheme to admit students to elite colleges and universities through falsified records, bribery and other illegal activities. Court documents allege Zangrillo spent $250,000, including $200,000 to falsify his daughter’s academic records to ensure she would be admitted to the University of Southern California.
According to the complaint, Zangrillo sought the services of William “Rick” Singer, the accused chief architect behind the operation, to secure his daughter’s acceptance to USC as a transfer student. The filing includes portions of a wiretapped conversation captured between an associate of Singer’s and Zangrillo. During the chat, Zangrillo is told by the confidential witness that an USC crew coach had agreed to designate his daughter as a potential recruit for the team in exchange for a bribe.
“Crew coach got on the phone with me, said, ‘Okay, I will take her. You guys help us, we’ll help you,’ ” prosecutors say the cooperating witness told Zangrillo. The complaint claims Zangrillo’s daughter never rowed competitively.
The court filing also alleges Zangrillo asked that someone else retake an art history class in which his daughter had received an “ F” grade, for the sake of boosting her GPA.
It also charges the developer paid $200,000 to the Key Worldwide Foundation, Singer’s ostensibly charitable organization used to allegedly facilitate bribes to participants. The filing claims he also donated $50,000 to “USC Women’s Athletics” at the direction of one of the architects behind the alleged college admissions fraud.
In a recording quoted in the complaint, Zangrillo is urged to tell his daughter — who was eventually accepted to USC as a transfer student — not to talk about athletics when speaking to the university’s administration.
“No, she won’t say that,” Zangrillo said, according to a transcript provided in the filing.
“OK. And then we should be fine,” the informant replied.
Zangrillo is the founder and CEO of Dragon Global, a Miami-based investment firm tied to the Magic City Innovation District redevelopment project in Little Haiti. He did not respond to requests for comment by press time. His firm’s website, which has gone offline since the charges against Zangrillo were made public Tuesday, touted more than $1 billion worth of investments in tech giants including Facebook and Twitter.
The Dragon Global CEO is not the only Floridian to be implicated in the scheme.
Mark Riddell, a resident of Palmetto, has been suspended from his position with Bradenton boarding school IMG Academy in light of the charges against him. He had served as the school’s director of college entrance exam preparation.
Riddell is accused of helping Singer in ”bribing test administrators to allow Riddell to secretly take the exams in place of actual students, or to replace the students’ exam responses with his own” between 2011 and February 2019.
“Singer agreed with parents whose children were scheduled to take the SAT or ACT exam as part of the college admissions process to secretly have Riddell either take the test in place of their children, or to correct their children’s answers after the children had competed the test,” the complaint said. According to the court filing, Singer advised parents on how to obtain extended time on these tests. This included “having their children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain medical documentation” that would grant them the desired extra time.
Neither IMG nor Riddell responded to requests for comment by press time.