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Parents charged in admissions scandal try to drag USC into the fray

Joel Rubin and Matthew Ormseth, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- From the start, federal prosecutors have tried to make the college admissions case a straightforward story about greed.

But in the nine months since, the case has turned murky.

In the government's telling, wealthy parents, college coaches, and others conspired with William "Rick" Singer, a Newport Beach consultant who used bribes and fraud to rig college entrance exams and buy spots at top-tier schools for the children of clients.

The case generated national outrage when it was unveiled in March, as people railed against the unfair advantage the rich and powerful enjoy when it comes to college admissions. Prosecutors scored early victories: Many of the 54 people charged in the case pleaded guilty, and all but two of them were sentenced to prison.

Lawyers for parents whose children were admitted to the University of Southern California through alleged fraud and bribery are now trying to drag the school into the fray, seeking -- among other things -- sensitive internal documents that they believe will shed light on how the school has courted wealthy donors and the role donations play in admissions.

A lawyer for Robert Zangrillo, a father accused of paying $250,000 to Singer and an accomplice to get his daughter into USC, made the first move for this information in August, when he tried to subpoena the school for fundraising and admissions records, including a database of donors and the percentage of applicants admitted within a year of their families donating $50,000 or more.

 

USC has fought to quash the subpoena, arguing it is overly broad and seeks information irrelevant to the case. A judge instructed the two sides to try to reach a compromise.

Earlier this month, lawyers for other parents charged in the case followed up with demands for a slew of records from the government, including information about USC's fundraising.

The attempt to turn the focus onto USC makes sense, defense experts said, but it remains to be seen how far judges in the case will allow defendants to pursue it.

"You can't blame them for trying," said James Felman, an attorney and expert on fraud crimes who isn't involved in the case. "The idea, though, that they are going to turn this into a trial about how a school seeks donations is hard to see."

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