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- In newly filed court papers, attorneys representing former TPG exec Bill McGlashan have painted a picture of how they say the wealthy financier tried to get his son into the University of Southern California.
- The process entailed “engaging” with “VIP connections” McGlashan had at USC, including friends on the university’s board, and setting up a tour for his son to see the campus with a senior associate dean.
- The account is central to McGlashan’s defense against federal prosecutors who have charged him as part of a sprawling March indictment against 33 parents they say bribed college coaches and entrance exam officials to get their children admitted to high-status universities.
- Others have pleaded guilty but McGlashan is fighting the charges. In so doing, the story of what McGlashan says he did do offers a window into how the nation’s wealthy use their networks to get their kids into schools.
- McGlashan’s defense also holds that his son had been placed on a USC “VIP list” maintained as part of an established admissions process to identify students from families that could provide substantial donations to the school or had relationships with other influential persons affiliated with USC.
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This year’s college admissions scandal illuminated how some wealthy parents bypassed the traditional college application process by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for a consultant to tip the scale in their children’s favor.
But the defense strategy of prominent figure charged in the scandal — Bill McGlashan, the former executive of private-equity firm TPG — shows how the rich can tap their connections in a way that still favors their children, but appears to be completely legal.
Prosecutors alleged that McGlashan donated $50,000 to a nonprofit with the understanding that college consultant Rick Singer would arrange for someone to administer and then correct his son’s ACT at West Hollywood, California, testing center that Singer “controlled,” according to the initial indictment charging him with fraud.
However, in a court filing Wednesday morning seeking additional evidence in the case against him, McGlashan’s attorneys claimed that he did not pay to have his son accepted to the University of Southern California via a “side door,” as federal prosecutors allege.
McGlashan’s son’s mother is a USC alumna, so he benefitted from being a legacy candidate, the filing said.
McGlashan also had contacts at USC, “including friends on the board,” and his son received a tour of the campus, the court papers show. One of his contacts is Jimmy Iovine, the co-founder of Interscope Records and the namesake of the school McGlashan’s son applied to, USC Iovine & Young Academy, according to court papers.
The teenager then received special attention from USC, the filing says.
“McGlashan’s son had been placed on a ‘VIP list,’ a list USC maintained as part of its established admissions process to identify students from families that could provide substantial donations to the school or had relationships with other influential persons affiliated with USC.”
At the same time, McGlashan had also been “engaging” his VIP connections at USC, his lawyers said in the filings.
“McGlashan’s son had already met a Senior Associate Dean at the Iovine & Young Academy, the specific school within USC in which he was interested, and McGlashan had set up a lunch and tour for his son with the Dean of Iovine so that his son could get to know more about the school.”
McGlashan then told “his contacts that USC was his son’s first choice, and secur[ed]letters of recommendation and support from USC and Iovine & Young.”
The filing did not specify which USC board members were friends with McGlashan, but it counts 55 voting members including private equity giant Tom Barrack and movie mogul Steven Spielberg.
USC did not respond to a request for comment.
‘A lot of internal and external pressure’
The account, which is central to McGlashan’s defense that he did not pay a consultant to forge his son’s application to secure enrollment at USC, offers a window into how the nation’s wealthy use their networks to get their kids into schools.
The filings also show how a top university can favor applicants who have a good likelihood of bringing in future donations. Getting onto USC’s “VIP list,” for example, helped an applicant’s chances skyrocket, according to the court documents. The filing said VIP applicants “were routinely admitted to the school at high percentage rates, including possibly up to 90%.” USC’s admissions rate dropped to a record low, 11%, last year, according to the school paper.
Applicants could get on the VIP list “with donations as low as $25,000, or even being related to someone who was a potential donor,” said the filing.
The concept of favoritism at elite universities is well-known in the education world, and parents who have the means have long tried to take advantage of how the system works. Rarely, though, are their efforts publicized as prominent, respected members in the community.
“They have come in and said, ‘I have a huge connection,'” said Laurie Kopp Weingarten, a New Jersey-based college admissions adviser who works with 25–30 high school students a year, helping prepare them for the essays and exams to get into top schools.
Weingarten says that she usually sees one or two instances a year where a wealthy family tries to work a connection in their network to their child’s advantage. But she said it’s totally legal.
“I joke with families I work with that if you have your family name on a campus building, you will at least get looked at very closely in admissions,” said Weingarten.
Other college admissions consultants told Business Insider similar stories.
Jonathan Ginsberg, president of Danville, California-based BEEC Education, said that the number of students who could work university contacts to their advantage was “a very, very small group of people,” though some families donate to schools for years to give their children a leg up when it comes time to apply.
“There’s a lot of internal and external pressure,” he said, of the college application process.
Asked about McGlashan’s account, Dr. Eric Endlich, a Boston-area psychologist and founder of Top College Consultants, said that he didn’t necessarily think a private tour of the campus would mean the applicant had more of an advantage than others.
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And the weight of a letter of recommendation from a VIP varies depending on the school, the applicant, and the letter writer’s relationship with the student, Endlich said.
Fighting bribery and fraud charges
McGlashan was one of 33 parents charged by federal prosecutors this March in a sweeping indictment that accused them of participating in a scheme that involved bribing college coaches and entrance exam officials to get their children admitted to high-status universities.
Almost immediately after the charges were filed in March, TPG, the private equity firm where McGlashan was an executive, said it fired him and would let investors pull money from the fund that he ran (which focused on companies trying to tackle social and environmental issues). At the time, in an email to board members, McGlashan said he resigned.
Now, McGlashan is fighting charges of bribery and fraud against him in Massachussetts federal court.
The latest filing Wednesday came as part of a request that prosecutors hand over additional evidence in the case that could support McGlashan’s defense, including full reports of interviews conducted while the FBI mounted the case.
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