Last week, one of Yolanda’s longtime readers sent us an unusual request. Show the extravagant houses of those admissions cheaters, he said. Reveal how these corrupt people live to the world.
By now, y’all already know the story, as blabbed by every news outlet on the planet. In a cunning and remorseless scheme orchestrated by one Rick Singer, 33 ultra-wealthy parents paid hefty bribes ($500,000+ in some cases) to secure their children’s admission to ultra-elite colleges: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and others. The school most heavily implicated in the mess, however, appears to be USC — right here in Yolanda’s own backyard. More than half the parents indicted had their children fraudulently admitted as Trojans, and USC was the only university where an actual school administrator — former athletic director Donna Heinel — was arrested for receiving bribes. Yikes!
At first, Yolanda held off on discussing this because we felt badly for the folks involved. Seriously. Just think about it: the whole world now knows these kids are academically-challenged, and their parents are facing serious charges (possible prison time!) for trying to help — in however misguided a manner — their spawn succeed. And this blog is written in good fun, not for publicly shamin’ anybody.
But then Yolanda read the actual indictment. And our brains practically disintegrated at the outrageous, cold-hearted ways these parents scammed their kids into prestigious schools, depriving more academically accomplished youngsters of opportunities in the process. It’s actually pretty gross. So even though this differs from our usual content, let’s chat.
Full disclosure before we begin: Yolanda is a USC alum, but we didn’t get into college with Mr. Singer’s (or anyone else’s) help. No wisecracks please, it’s true. Our parents basically told us to get good grades and be accepted by a good school or else we’d be banished to community college forever. And they would make us pay tuition ourselves, presumably by hawking our body on the nearest streetcorner. So we got into USC. While still working the streetcorner, too. But we digress.
We mention that because anyone who has attended USC (or any private school with a “highly selective” schtick, for that matter) can attest that admissions is not — and has never been — a “fair” process. There are always large numbers of enrolled kids who were not accepted on their academic merit alone. Often it’s because they are legacy students (with alumni parents) or because they come from influential and wealthy families — and are (or may become) big school donors. Leveraging one’s connections is far different from outright bribery, of course, but it still creates an arguably unfair playing field.
For example, take the case of Olivia Jade Giannulli, the kid involved who has received tons of media attention. Our Miss Jade is a YouTube star with 2 million subscribers. And at the time of her parents’ felony arrests, Miss Jade happened to be yachting with the family of billionaire Rick Caruso — who just happens to be Chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees.
Yikes, again. When Yolanda was in school, we never got an invite to the Chairman’s yacht.
And speaking of Mr. Caruso, Yolanda has previously written about all four of his own kids. Did we mention they all attended USC? We did. Did they get into school solely on their own merits? Could their dad’s status have curried favor? We don’t know. Maybe they’re all smart cookies.
All we know is that scandal-racked USC — whose longtime president was forced to resign last year — needs another public headache like a baboon needs a flamethrower. And having a girl who cheated her way into school aboard the chairman’s yacht ain’t a good look. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
So anyway, let’s peep some of the lavish real estate and discuss.
The family most highly-publicized for their involvement in the scandal (by far) are “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin, her mega-rich fashion designer hubby Mossimo Giannulli, and their two daughters. The couple — neither of whom attended college — pushed their kids to apply to USC. Fine and dandy, except for the itsy-bitsy $500,000 “donation” they made to significantly bolster their admission odds.
While in school, the girls pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma, colloquially known at USC as the “rich girls” sorority. The lovely Kappa house on fraternity row — it’s more like a mansion, really — has a chef and (allegedly) a full-time butler or some other such silliness. Fancy!
Anyway, a half million bucks may seem a crazy price for — ahem — “pre-tuition” costs, but it’s no biggie for the Loughlin-Giannullis. The family currently resides in Bel Air, in a stunning home they bought for $14 million in 2015 and have since extensively renovated.
Just think, y’all, if the house had sold for its full asking price, the Giannulli daughters could’ve been accepted into 70 colleges of their choice!
Before that, they owned a beautiful estate (with interiors by Michael S. Smith) in Bel Air. They offloaded that place to socialite Alexandra Dwek, who recently resold it for $40 million to billionaire Ross Perot Jr.
Desperate Housewife Felicity Huffman and her Shameless hubby William H. Macy actually got off relatively cheap, shelling out a mere $15,000 (the cost of a new Kia Rio) to fraudulently get their daughter extra time on her ACT test.
Note: although Ms. Huffman was arrested, Mr. Macy has not been formally charged by the feds, though the indictment shows he was well aware of the scheme and payouts.
Anyway, the couple are puttin’ on a united front. They showed up together at the courthouse, both looking like they’d just rolled outta bed. Odd, that.
Despite their casual apparel, the Huffman-Macys keep things swank at home in the Hollywood Hills, where they preside over a $10+ million compound comprised of two side-by-side mansions set on nearly three acres of land.
More aerial photos of the property here.
One of the more egregious fraud instances listed on the indictment was perpetrated by mega-rich Miami developer Bob Zangrillo, a guy likely worth $100+ million. So paying $250,000 in bribes to get his daughter Amber accepted to USC — which he did — is obviously no biggie to him.
But then there’s the manner in which the cheating occurred. Mr. Zangrillo reportedly paid an employee of Rick Singer to take classes on Amber’s behalf. And while most parents involved in the bribery scheme went to great lengths to shield their children from their underhanded acts, Amber was fully aware an imposter was taking her classes and doing her homework.
Mr. Zangrillo primarily resides in an enormous oceanfront home on Miami Beach, but he’s also got a mansion here in LA, up in the coveted Bird Streets.
Mr. Zangrillo’s Birds nest is among the most impressive properties in the whole neighborhood, featuring a 14,000-square-foot mansion on a 1.22-acre lot overlooking the entire LA basin. The property last sold for $20 million back in 2013.
Fun fact: Yolanda wrote about Mr. Zangrillo and his homes in 2016. Shortly after the story was published, Mr. Zangrillo hit us up and we spoke to him on the telephone. Our boy was appreciably friendly and even offered to invite us to the wild house parties he is (in)famous for throwing, but oddly denied owning the Bird Streets house. According to Mr. Zangrillo, he only leases the property on a longterm basis. As such, he requested we delete our story as he didn’t “want anyone getting the wrong idea” about what he owned. The “anyone”, we inferred from the conversation, meant Uncle Sam and his big bad army of tax enforcers.
For the record, the Bird Streets property is technically owned by a blind trust. But we are quite positive the real beneficial owner is indeed Mr. Zangrillo.
In a statement to the Commercial Observer, Mr. Zangrillo said he was “deeply troubled by the recent complaint… and I regret my and my daughter’s involvement in this college admissions matter… The alleged activities described in the complaint have no connection to my business endeavors.”
Perhaps the person most ironically connected to the scandal was Beverly Hills-based businesswoman Jane Buckingham, ex-wife of Marcus Buckingham and CEO of Trendera, a market research firm. She’s also a parenting guru who lectures on the dangers of millennials’ entitlement, according to a biting piece in the Hollywood Reporter.
Judging by the fanatically-clipped hedges and very green lawn surrounding her $10+ million Flats mansion — nary a blade of grass out of place — Mrs. Buckingham likes to keep her life organized. Nothing left to chance. We suppose that explains the double whammy: she falsely claimed her son Jack had a learning disability (yikes, poor kid) and paid $50,000 to have a proctor secretly take the ACT on his behalf.
To his credit, young Jack Buckingham has publicly apologized for his mama’s actions, although some cynical naysayers have snarked that the apology appears tailor-made for him (by somebody else). Perhaps a wee bit of skepticism is inevitable when your parents are bestselling authors.
One of the wealthiest parents on the indictment list is also one of the most low-profile: Elisabeth Kimmel, a Harvard Law alum and resident of both Las Vegas and La Jolla, allegedly paid a throat-clenching $475,000 to have two of her children falsely designated as top athletic recruits.
Our Mrs. Kimmel is owner of Midwest Television, a media empire founded by her grandfather. In late 2017, Ms. Kimmel sold off a significant portion of her media holdings for a whopping $325 million.
Anyway, there wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy about Mrs. Kimmel’s indictment, except that her son’s USC application — as a star top pole vaulter — included an action photo from his high school days.
Of course, the pole vaulter in the photo wasn’t actually Mrs. Kimmel’s son. He was just some random kid from Texas whose picture got stolen and used for fraud. Ouch!
Mrs. Kimmel’s ritzy primary residence is a real damn compound with a main mansion, guest quarters, full-size tennis court and even a small lake (of sorts). Other media reports have estimated the property’s value at $7 million, but Yolanda believes it is worth far more — probably at least $10,000,000.
Doug Hodge is the former CEO of Newport Beach-based PIMCO, the giant investment management company founded by billionaire Bill Gross. Previously the COO, he stepped in as chief executive amid Mr. Gross’s turbulent departure, earning a one-year bonus of $45 million in the process. And he also made the following statement:
“it starts at the top, with us, the leaders of the financial industry. Both as firms and as individuals, we need to personify trustworthy values… Willful violations of the rules should not be tolerated… [What is needed is] a stronger emphasis on ethics and integrity.”
Yolanda wonders if that “stronger emphasis” included paying bribes of $450,000 to falsely designate two of his children as USC athletic prospects. Oh, dear.
Back in 2009 — at the height of the last economic recession — Mr. Hodge paid $12,200,000 for a huge manor in Laguna Beach’s exclusive Emerald Bay guard-gated community.
In summary, Yolanda must admit that the endgame here confuses us. After all, these kids attended some of LA’s most prestigious and famous private high schools — Harvard-Westlake and Buckley, for example. They had access to all the private tutors and prep work money could buy. And yet they still “underperformed” academically.
So what good would cheating their way into USC (or any other school) have done them? If they were already falling behind their high school classmates, imagine how badly they would’ve done at a selective university. Was all that money and risk just for a name and degree? Was it really worth that much, especially when these parents are already the wealthiest, best-connected folks in the entire world? These kids weren’t born on first or second base — more like a couple steps from home plate.
But apparently it was indeed worth it. And not just to these folks — to many more just like them. Our Mr. Singer was in business for many years and amassed far more than just 33 clients. TMZ reported that scores of other wealthy parents are quakin’ in their boots.
So for readers already seething at the brazen corruption displayed here, save some vitriol for a later date. The people named in this indictment are merely the initial sacrificial lamb, the proverbial leak in the Dutch dike. Ready for more fireworks? They’re coming; stay tuned…