USC challenges subpoena from father allegedly involved in college admissions scandal

USC asked a federal judge to quash a subpoena for records related to the University’s admissions processes and information regarding the practice of flagging applicants as “VIP” and “special interest.” Robert Zangrillo, a USC parent involved in the college admissions scandal, subpoenaed USC following charges from the FBI related to his alleged involvement in Operation Varsity Blues. 

“The Subpoena is overbroad, improperly conceived, and inconsistent with the purpose of Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(c),” the document read. “It does not seek production of specific documents, but rather asks USC to identify and compile a sweeping amount of information that either does not exist at all or would require an unreasonably time-consuming and expensive effort to collect.”

According to Boston Federal Court records filed Thursday, Zangrillo paid $200,000 to William “Rick” Singer, a Newport Beach-based business man who co-founded The Edge College & Career Network, a for-profit business accused of running the college admissions scam. Singer plead guilty to all charges in March. 

Records indicate that Zangrillo paid $50,000 to an account controlled by former Senior Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel to secure his daughter’s acceptance to USC. Heinel, the only senior administrator involved in the scandal among the 11 universities named, is pleading not guilty to racketeering conspiracy and was terminated the day the investigation broke.

The motion also states that one of Singer’s employees allegedly took classes on behalf of Zangrillo’s daughter Amber while she was in high school to improve her grades. One of these classes was an art history course she previously failed. Amber Zangrillo is currently enrolled at USC, according to the court filings. 

According to the motion, the subpoena asks for records related to “special interest” applicants, a database of applicants whose families donated over $50,000, the names of University personnel responsible for each designation, the amount of money donated by the families of special interest applicants, among other information. According to the case filings, Zangrillo also requested the University give him any emails, texts and instant messages that involve his daughter. 

The University believes that the information Zangrillo has requested is neither “relevant nor admissible at trial.”

“This subpoena is overly broad and seeks confidential information about unrelated parties that is irrelevant to this matter,” USC wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan.

The motion reveals that Zangrillo and Singer believed Amber Zangrillo was admitted to USC as a rower — however, the University never considered her a recruited athlete and instead marked her with a “special interest ‘tag.’”

According to the motion, tagging applicants is a common practice at universities nationwide, and USC has no official documentation or procedure regarding the practice. 

USC doesn’t track the amount of special interest applicants who are admitted to the University, but Brunold said the majority of these students are not accepted. He said making a list of all students who have been tagged as special interest as Zangrillo requested would be “time-consuming and burdensome.”

“There is no possible way to consistently determine which employees issued special interest tags to which students, or how many special interest tags were issued by a particular employee,” Brunold said. “There are no documents that contain such information, and no realistic way to identify and compile such information.”

Brunold also said the admissions department doesn’t know if an applicant’s family has made a donation or plans to donate and that this doesn’t factor into an admissions decision. 

Zangrillo’s attorney Martin Weinberg did not immediately reply to the Daily Trojan’s request for comment.