USC officials flagged students with wealthy parents for special attention, reports say

Emails filed Tuesday in federal court by an attorney for a parent accused in the college admissions scandal show USC officials explicitly discussed how much money the parents of applicants could donate to the school.

The emails were filed by an attorney for Robert Zangrillo, a father charged in the admissions scandal that has ensnared several top universities, officials, coaches, parents and students, according to published reports.

The reports claim the messages between the USC athletic department and admissions office flag students whose wealthy parents have donated or would donate to the school, along with indications of how much was given or was expected.

Zangrillo is accused of making payments to William "Rick" Singer, the admitted mastermind of a scheme to extract payments for help getting applicants into top colleges, sometimes on the basis of bogus athletic achievement or through testing fraud, in an effort to get his daughter admitted to USC. He has pleaded not guilty to fraud and money laundering conspiracy charges.

The university has maintained that officials, including those in the athletic department, are allowed to flag prospective students for special attention but final decisions are made solely by the office of admissions and that decisions were not based on donations.

"USC remains confident that the court will agree with us that it need not produce the information and documents requested by the defendant."

Weisberg contended in his court filing there exists "a university-wide program at USC" involving donations received, pledged or expected that "deeply" affect admissions decisions. He also claims that recommendations from "persons of power, wealth, or position in the USC community, past or present" play a role in whether a student is admitted.

Among those accused of participating in Singer's alleged schemes are actresses Lori Loughlin, whose daughters were admitted to USC based on their credentials as rowers, even though they were not actual crew athletes. Loughlin is fighting the charges.