Crime

Major Miami Investor Charged for Paying Bribe to Get His Daughter Into USC as Part of National Scandal

Zangrillo (right) with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
Zangrillo (right) with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Robert Zangrillo / Instagram
click to enlarge Zangrillo (right) with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. - ROBERT ZANGRILLO / INSTAGRAM
Zangrillo (right) with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
Robert Zangrillo / Instagram
Robert Zangrillo, a prominent Miami investor and real-estate developer currently proposing a massive, controversial luxury project in Little Haiti, was charged today as part of a sweeping national college bribery case that has ensnared major college coaches and at least two Hollywood actresses. Prosecutors alleged Zangrillo illegally paid what amounted to a $50,000 bribe to get his daughter into the University of Southern California in 2017. Her application had initially been rejected.

The indictments across the country center on a supposed college counseling service in California called the Edge College and Career Network that allegedly existed to help rich people launder bribes to colleges aimed at helping their less-than-stellar children into top-flight schools. According to court records unsealed in the Southern District of Florida today, Zangrillo was allegedly caught on tape telling Edge's CEO, William "Rick" Singer, to fudge Zangrillo's daughter's high-school transcripts, erase some poor grades, and make it appear as if his daughter was an accomplished amateur rowing enthusiast. Zangrillo also asked Singer to have an Edge employee named Mikaela Sanford take his daughter's biology class for her. Singer replied he was "happy to assist."

Zangrillo was also allegedly caught on tape arranging for a $200,000 so-called donation to the Edge's allegedly fraudulent charity, the Key Worldwide Foundation, as well as a $50,000 gift to the USC women's athletics department.

The complaint includes transcripts of alleged phone conversations between Zangrillo and Singer:

Singer: I won’t say that the, the moneys went to go pay [USC associate athletic director Donna] Heinel for USC to get her in. And the other part is when [inaudible] audit —

Zangrillo: What — what — what — what — what will be the thing — what was [my daughter’s] payment for? Just so I know, so we have the story straight. 
Singer allegedly replied that he would make it seem as if the donations to the Key would help "underpriveliged kids."

In a second call, Singer allegedly instructed Zangrillo to make sure his daughter never admitted to college advisers that she got into USC by paying the athletics department.

Singer: And, and we know that—and we don’t — what I don’t want her to say, or anything like this, is that she got in through athletics — she got in because of a payment to athletics, which I know—

Zangrillo: Right.

Singer: That she won’t — right?

Zangrillo: Right. No, she won’t say that.
Zangrillo was charged today with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud. He could not be immediately reached for comment. (Sanford was also charged with conspiracy to commit racketeering.)

Singer, the central figure in the scheme, will plead guilty today to charges of money-laundering, racketeering, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and other crimes. In all, at least 47 people were charged with crimes today as part of the scheme.

click to enlarge Zangrillo (right) with former Miami Beach Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine. - ROBERT ZANGRILLO / INSTAGRAM
Zangrillo (right) with former Miami Beach Mayor and gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine.
Robert Zangrillo / Instagram
The probe has also ensnared coaches at major colleges including Stanford, Yale, Georgetown, UCLA, the University of Texas-Austin, and, of course, USC. In addition, two Hollywood actresses — Felicity Huffman and Full House's Lori Laughlin — were charged today with allegedly taking part in the scheme. Prosecutors say that some of the money sent to the Key Worldwide "charity" also got funneled to college administrators and coaches, as well as SAT and ACT test adminsitrators, too.


Zangrillo, meanwhile, runs a venture capital firm in Miami called Dragon Global. In his spare time, he's apparently also something of a celebrity-party king: Social-media posts and online paparazzi images show that he's close with the Hadid family, has hung out at parties with Snoop Dogg and the Kardashians, and has thrown massive, blowout events in LA and Miami that have included body-painted women, fire-dancing, and at least one shirtless person with dwarfism wearing a top-hat.


He is one of the cofounders of the controversial Magic City Innovation District, a sprawling proposed plan to effectively pave over huge swaths of the historically black, immigrant area of Little Haiti and replace it with luxury shops and apartments.Two9 weeks ago, activists stormed city hall during a commission meeting and expressed outrage after the Magic City developers quietly removed affordable-housing and local-hiring restrictions from their proposal. They instead proposed paying $31 million into a city fund for the poor. Critics, however, worry that the $31 million will be inadequate — or misspent.

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."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.