Two families with connections to Colorado are facing charges related to what a U.S. attorney called the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Department of Justice.
Thirty-three parents across the country are accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their kids into elite colleges and universities. Federal records show that the suspects in the case will face fraud and bribery charges related to getting their children into elite universities.
One family named in the indictment has a home in Aspen, while another family is from Miami but claims their daughter was taking classes at the University of Colorado in Boulder so she could get into the University of Southern California as a "transfer" student.
The affidavit says parents worked with a man named William Singer, the founder of a for-profit college prep business. Agents say parents would make donations to Singer's group and he would in turn bribe college officials, coaches and test administrators.
Marcia Abbott, of Aspen, was arrested in connection to the college scam, federal agents from Colorado confirmed to 9Wants to Know.
Gregory and Marcia Abbott, who have homes in New York and Aspen, are accused of hiring the company to have people correct wrong answers on their daughter's ACT and SAT tests.
The affidavit says the Abbott's paid $50,000 for the ACT scores and $75,000 for the SAT's.
Gregory is the founder and chairman of a packaging company in the food and beverage industry and the former chairman and CEO of a private-label clothing manufacturer.
According to the affidavit, on Aug. 3, 2018, Marcia Abbott called someone helping them scam tests. The following is an excerpt from the conversation:
MARCIA ABBOTT | What is the situation with subject tests? Is it basically the same that happened with the SATs?
REPRESENTATIVE | Yeah, it’s a little more expensive because now you gotta have somebody which, you gotta make sure that you do well on both of those areas. It’s not like the SATs. They’re much harder.
M.A. | Yeah, well they’re very specialized, and for her, she was gonna take Math II and English Lit.
REP | Right, so if we have somebody help her, I have to get, I have to figure out who that’s gonna be, that’s gonna be able to take care of both of those.
M.A. | Alright, she loves the guy [CW-2] who took the SATs, she said. She said she started having heart palpitations but she said he was so sweet, he let me walk around the hallway. She said, “Can’t I take my SAT subjects with him?” And I said, “Nah, I don’t think so. I mean, I think, you know, you just, it’s whole different area and that was ’cause we happened to be out in California seeing schools. So you know we’re gonna take them here.” So, alright, so there’s no way for [Aug.] 27. Then I guess we should take them here down [in the Aspen area] on the 27 and let’s see how she does.
REP | Absolutely, absolutely.
During a call in September 2018, Marcia Abbott told the representative she wanted to move forward with the cheating scheme for the SATs because her daughter didn't think she had done well by herself.
REP | Good thing that she did this for the ACT, ’cause her score was not exceptional.
M.A. | What? Excuse me what’d you say?
REP | I said it was a good thing that we did it for the first test.
M.A. | Oh yeah, my gosh, I mean, I’m sure her - you kidding me? She was gonna throw up like every single drug in the world for mono and Lyme [disease]. I’m sure it was a disaster.
REP | She got, she got a 23.
M.A. | Yeah, that would be what I would have guessed at, 25, you know. So yeah, I mean, yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see how she does on the math. But she herself even says she doesn’t have high hopes for English Lit. Yeah, so do you think we should do it now then, this week?
REP | I have to, I have to ask the person in Houston if she’ll do it.
M.A. | Oh, so it’d be in Houston.
REP | Yeah, because the person, the person who’s gonna be the proctor is based in, half the time, somewhere across the country.
M.A. | Yeah alright, well I rather do, I rather go for it then. Because you know what, even she gets like a 740, 730 on her math, she still needs to get higher.
REP | OK, well I’ll talk to the person in Houston tomorrow and see, and the proctor, and see if they’re available.
M.A. | OK, great. And that’s your only one in the country?
REP | Nobody in the country even has one.
Robert Zangrillo is the founder an CEO of a Miami-based private investment firm focused on venture capital and real estate investments.
The affidavit says Zangrillo conspired to bribe athletic department officials at the University of Southern California to get his daughter into an athletic program.
Her application, according to the affidavit, falsely stated that Zangrillo's daughter was taking classes at a number of schools including CU Boulder so she could "transfer" to the University of Southern California.
Around June 2018, the affidavit says USC offered Zangrillo's daughter admission as a transfer student in the spring semester of 2019.
Almost four months later, Zangrillo paid the company $200,000 and mailed a $50,000 check to "USC Women's Athletics."
During a call on January 2019, Zangrillo confirmed that his daughter would not say anything to her advisor about being admitted through athletics. The call was recorded:
REP | They get to the [USC undergraduate] advisor, and the advisor say[s], “By the way, you were admitted through athletics. Are you competing in a sport?” 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.
REP | That she won’t -- right?
ZANGRILLO | Right. No, she won’t say that.
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