This past Tuesday, Miami developer Robert Zangrillo was charged with crimes as part of a national FBI investigation into rich Americans who bribe colleges into admitting their spoiled, underperforming kids. Zangrillo allegedly paid an intermediary to make it appear as if his daughter, who had failed an art history class among other lackluster achievements, deserved to get into the University of Southern California. The case has ignited a national debate about the ways in which entitled families game America's education and financial systems.
Zangrillo is also pitching a massive, luxury land development project in the middle of a majority-immigrant neighborhood. And documents show he has set up that project to be a cash cow for his children. In documents, Zangrillo stipulates his three daughters will own a portion of the project through a trust fund.
Zangrillo, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, holds a 35 percent stake in the Magic City Innovation District project, a sprawling, 17-acre, deeply controversial plan to pave over a huge portion of Little Haiti, a predominantly black, immigrant, and working-class neighborhood. Zangrillo's team wants to construct high-rise condos, luxury shops, fine-dining restaurants, and a bunch of office space.
The project is designed largely to generate money for Zangrillo's daughters. According to documents dug up by Miami blogger Al Crespo, Zangrillo has formed an LLC through which he's handling his stake in the project. That Delaware-based LLC — named MCD Dragon, after his investment firm, Dragon Global — has three controlling groups. Zangrillo himself owns 54.2 percent of the company.
More than 42 percent of the LLC goes to the AAA 2012 Trust, a trust fund that benefits Zangrillo's three daughters.
One of those daughters is Amber, the student who, according to federal prosecutors, was admitted to USC after her dad paid $200,000 to an intermediary, William "Rick" Singer, and then donated $50,000 to USC women's athletics. Amber Zangrillo apparently had her heart set on going to USC but did not have the grades. She applied to the school and was denied. But prosecutors say that instead of sending Amber to a less prestigious university, Zangrillo bribed USC administrators and fraudulently claimed she was a rowing athlete, thus opening the way to admission through the athletics department.
The Zangrillos aren't the only ones to benefit from the LLC. Los Angeles-based investor Neil Kadisha controls a 3.31 stake of MCD Dragon. Kadisha has also been caught committing financial crimes. In 2007, the self-professed venture capitalist was busted for stealing absurd sums of money from a widow's trust fund. According to the Los Angeles Times, Kadisha "looted the trust funds of a young widow and her children and then parlayed the ill-gotten gains into a sizable chunk of his wealth." A judge in the civil case stated Kadisha "was no more than a common thief in his monumental takings of [their] money for his own use and benefit." He was forced to pay the woman $100 million. (In 2017, the Los Angeles Business Journal named Kadisha the 37th-richest person in L.A.)
The ordeal raises massive questions about the Magic City project. Might someone allegedly caught bribing college administrators also pay off city officials? Housing and immigrant-rights groups have already assailed the plan as dangerous for Little Haiti's longtime residents, especially because it appears affordable-housing and local-hiring requirements were edited out of the plan weeks ago without public disclosure.
In addition to being a land developer, Zangrillo also clearly loves to party. New Times yesterday dug up tons of old paparazzi photos and social media posts showing him getting into all sorts of shenanigans as some sort of L.A. celebrity-party king. The Zangrillo family is apparently close with the Hadid clan (consisting of real-estate developer Mohamed Hadid and world-famous supermodels Gigi and Bella Hadid). Images online show Zangrillo has attended parties with the
One Zangrillo L.A. house party included body-painted women, aerial acrobats, and a shirtless man with dwarfism wearing a top hat and carrying a cake.
Looks like our boy Zangrillo is really into throwing wild, gigantic LA parties, seems extremely fair to ask if he ought to be trusted to bulldoze an immigrant neighborhood in the middle of Miami pic.twitter.com/y2EH7VsbaX— Jerry Iannelli (@jerryiannelli) March 12, 2019
"If you know Bob Zangrillo, consider yourself fortunate," the L.A. nightlife website Red Hot Society wrote in 2016. "This former New York guy (his business acumen never left even when he left the city) turned Los Angelino and world resident throws some of the best parties on the West Coast."
Zangrillo also enjoys attending the Burning Man festival. Photos on his Instagram feed show him partying in the Nevada desert while wearing a Native American headdress.
In 2018, Zangrillo threw an absolutely nuts-looking Art Basel party on the Venetian Islands:
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The most coveted party of Art Basel - Bob Zangrillo’s blowout on the Venetian Islands - pictures can’t describe how amazing this party was so here are some videos! Guest list was also on fleek!! @bobzangrillo @maxwellosborne @davidbeckham @barrefaeli @weworewhat @guygerber @a_vinz #jetblading #pyrotechnics #disco #guygerber #lit #houseparty #waterfront #artbasel #miami #venetianislands #bobzangrillo #barrefaeli #davidbeckham #maxwellosborne #weworewhat #parties #events #wow #unbelievable #unforgettable
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So far, Miami politicians have avoided weighing in on Zangrillo's Little Haiti venture. The project sits in Commissioner Keon Hardemon's district — Hardemon has not responded to messages from New Times for the past seven days. His office did not reply to two emails. One was sent last week to discuss the Magic City proposal. A second went out this week requesting comment on Zangrillo's role in the project. Yesterday New Times called Hardemon's office, and an aide refused to divulge Hardemon's location or how he might be contacted.
City elections records show that in 2017, Zangrillo donated $2,000 to Hardemon's reelection campaign. Half of that came directly from Zangrillo, while the other $1,000 came from his company Dragon Global.
Update 3/15: Three days after prosecutors announced charges against him, Zangrillo released a statement to the press stating that he regrets working with Singer.
"I am deeply troubled by the recent complaint regarding Key Worldwide Foundation and I regret my and my daughter’s involvement in this college admissions matter," Zangrillo said through a spokesperson. "This is a personal issue and the alleged activities described in the complaint have no connection to my business endeavors."