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Money plays no role in who gets in to USC? Judge doesn't buy it


The entrance to the University of Southern California Admission Center in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center is seen at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Tribune News Service

By Janelle Lawrence and Patricia Hurtado
Bloomberg News

BOSTON — The University of Southern California's dean of admissions was "not credible" when he claimed in a sworn statement that donations have no effect on who gets into USC, a judge in Boston said Tuesday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Page Kelley, who is refereeing disputes between USC and defense attorneys for several parents seeking evidence in the U.S. college admissions case, flatly rejected Dean Timothy Brunold's statement and ordered USC to hand over 20 internal emails involving Brunold and the admissions process.

"I don't for a second believe Mr. Brunold's affidavit that's admitted here, and I think it's belied by many of the documents," Kelley said in court Tuesday.

Miami businessman Robert Zangrillo, who is accused of paying a $250,000 bribe to get his daughter in to USC as an athletic recruit, had sought the communications to defend himself against charges in the biggest college admissions scam the U.S. has ever prosecuted. More than 50 parents, test administrators, college athletic coaches and others have been charged, including the former assistant athletic administrator at USC.

The coaches played a central role in the scheme, taking bribes to put wealthy parents' children on recruiting lists, whatever their talents, to assure them of admission to elite schools from Stanford to Yale, the U.S. says. Zangrillo's daughter was ultimately accepted as a VIP admission, according to the government.

Martin Weinberg, a lawyer for Zangrillo, told the court he intends to show a jury that pay-for-play was commonplace at USC, and the university needs to "detoxify" the role that big money played in securing spots for the children of the wealthy and well-connected.

"I have to prove that not only is it not illegal, USC is not a victim," Weinberg said.

Attorneys for designer Mossimo Giannulli and several other parents facing trial are also requesting copies of the emails and other documents Zangrillo is seeking.

Prosecutors have told the court they "respectfully disagree" with defense attorneys about how relevant the difference is.

The judge said the documents will be kept secret from the public under a protective order and will be redacted to hide the names of donors and students. The university had fought Weinberg's requests but ultimately agreed to produce the 20 emails, with redactions. It said in a statement that it was "pleased with the court's ruling that the information USC offered to produce was reasonable."

In Brunold's affidavit, filed with the court several months ago, the dean said he "does not track donations by an applicant's family."

"Information concerning donations by an applicant's family is not included in an applicant's file," he said. "If I had known that a prospective student's family had donated $50,000 or $100,000 to USC, it would not have affected the Admission Department's decision whether to admit the student."

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