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USC's role in yet another scandal prompts anger, disappointment among its community

Matt Hamilton and Harriet Ryan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

USC's interim president, Wanda Austin, said the university was barring about half a dozen current applicants connected to Singer's firm and had identified at least $1.3 million in donations from those involved in the scheme.

That money, she said, will be redirected to scholarships for underprivileged students.

"The fact is we were chagrined to discover we had employees committing fraud against the university," Austin said.

She took the reins last summer as then-President C.L. Max Nikias was forced out amid sexual abuse allegations against campus gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall, who has denied any wrongdoing.

In an interview Wednesday, she was quick to distinguish previous crises from the federal investigation, in which, she said, USC was the clear victim.

"I don't see it as akin to the other issues we have had, but our response is we are an ethical university and we are holding all of our members to that standard," Austin said.

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Singer pleaded guilty Tuesday, admitting that he masterminded a criminal operation dating back at least a decade. He offered two services to cheat admissions: Doctored scores on standardized tests and what he called "a side door" to elite schools. He bribed coaches at a number of schools to give spots reserved for student athletes to applicants whose parents were willing to pay up to half a million dollars. Singer and his conspirators created phony athletic profiles, complete with digitally altered pictures of the students participating in sports, according to court reports.

USC was unique in that Singer had enlisted an administrator, Heinel, and was not relying on coaches alone to sneak bogus athletes past admissions officers, according to court papers. For Zadeh, who refinanced his Calabasas home to pay Singer, Heinel used USC letterhead to build a fake lacrosse profile that claimed she was a "player who knows how to work as a team in order to win," according to an FBI affidavit.

Singer has acknowledged collecting about $25 million through his consulting company, Edge College & Career Network, also known as the Key, and a purported charity he started.

The 204-page FBI affidavit provided a window into the desire of wealthy Southern California families to attend USC. In a wiretapped conversation last summer, Beverly Hills marketing executive Jane Buckingham strategized with Singer about paying a man from Tampa, Fla., to take her son's ACT.

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