2 Florida Men Charged in Nationwide College Bribery Scheme

Robert Zangrillo, a Miami real estate developer, and Mark Riddell, a counselor at a private college prep school and sports academy in Bradenton, have been charged

What to Know

  • Robert Zangrillo, a Miami real estate developer, and Mark Riddell, a counselor at a private prep school in Bradenton, have been charged
  • Prosecutors say wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into elite schools

Two Florida men are among the fifty people who have been charged in what federal officials say is the largest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the Justice Department.

Robert Zangrillo, a Miami real estate developer and CEO of investment firm Dragon Global, and Mark Riddell, a counselor at IMG Academy, a private college preparatory school and sports academy in Bradenton, have been charged in the scheme in which federal prosecutors say wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country.

Among those charged are nine coaches of elite schools and 33 parents who prosecutors say paid "enormous sums" to guarantee their children's admission. Coaches are accused of taking bribes to admit students at schools including Wake Forest University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California.

Zangrillo, 52, is among the dozens of parents charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, according to the criminal complaint. Other parents charged include actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

Riddell, 36, was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering, prosecutors said. According to a since-deleted profile on IMG's website, Riddell is the director of college entrance exam preparation and has been working there since 2006.

Officials say parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission. Prosecutors said the conspiracy involved bribing SAT and ACT exam administrators to allow a test taker, typically Riddell, to secretly take college entrance exams in place of students or to correct the students’ answers after they had taken the exam.

Test administrators accepted bribes of as much as $10,000 per test to facilitate the cheating scheme, and Riddell was also paid $10,000 for each student's test, prosecutors said. In many instances, the students taking the exams were unaware that their parents had arranged for the cheating, prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling in Boston said Tuesday at a news conference that the colleges are not targets of the continuing investigation. He says authorities believe other parents were involved.

"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.

Court documents say an admissions consulting company in California was paid $25 million from 2011 through February 2019 to help facilitate the bribes, which were concealed through a charity.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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