As usual, all roads lead to Santa Barbara, even when they don’t. But in the case of all the scandals — the fraudulent enrollments scam being only the last — now engulfing USC, they actually do. It turns out that Carol Folt, newly named president of the school now going by the name University of Spoiled Children — attended both Santa Barbara Community College and UCSB, where she studied aquatic biology and earned a master’s degree in biology.
Folt was most recently head cheese whiz at the University of North Carolina, which has endured enrollment scandals and sports scandals of its own. Beyond Folt — with her Santa Barbara baggage — there is Rich Caruso — owner and developer of the Santa Barbara hotel formerly known as the Miramar, now called the Rosewood, where rooms start in the $800 a night range. Caruso also happens to be chairman of the Board of Trustees for USC and has been positively gaga over Folt, who, according to Los Angeles Times reports, has garnered decidedly mixed reviews from her peers at North Carolina when it came to taking hard charging bulls by the horns.
Such bulls have been in full stampede mode at USC for several years now. The head of the medical school — a brilliant scientist and even more brilliant fundraiser — got deep-sixed after it was reported he led a double life, smoking meth with prostitutes and drug addicts. Then, there was the campus gynecologist who for nearly 30 years got his perv on by over-examining the young women he saw, groping their breasts, and asking decidedly seriously creepy comments about which sexual positions his exams indicated they must most enjoy. When authorities finally roused themselves to do anything, they found a secret stash of on-the-job photos he’d kept in a storage container of his many patients over the years.
When the college bribery scandal broke a couple weeks ago, I initially suspected Caruso had had it arranged to change the conversation. The daughter of one of the parental bribers, a famous actress I’d never heard of, was lounging around Caruso’s yacht with one of his own daughters at the time her parents got arrested. Rich people bribing their way into a private college hardly seemed like news. “Shocked! Shocked, that there’s gambling at Rick’s,” I thought to myself, stealing one of the most purloined lines in all of cinema.
To be fair, this $25 million scam has a lot to set it apart. First, it’s the only bribery scam to date in which the bribes themselves are tax deductible. In this case, the parents donated funds — $15,000 to $150,000 — to a fraudulent nonprofit agency designed to help educate poor refugee children. It’s the tax fraud that made the scandal a federal case as opposed to a private embarrassment among rich people. It had so many movable parts — faking SATs with professional test takers, the abuse of developmental and learning issues to secure longer time to take such tests, the fobbing off of non-athletes onto school sports teams the likes of which the cheater never played.
USC, of course, is not the only beneficiary of this fraud, it just seems that way. Administrators of Santa Barbara’s many elite high schools were anxiously scouring over the list of 50 parents implicated in this sting; to date they’ve been relieved to find none of their former students on the list. As long as USC can keep winning football, none of this will matter and all will be forgiven. The fact that the school has struggled on the gridiron the past few years is inducing serious existential angst.
If the enrollment scam represents the gold standard for privilege and corruption, the story of 80-year-old con artist John Pierre Dupont represents just the opposite. Dupont was arrested by the feds for ripping off $250,000 from well-meaning dupes of the politically progressive bent. He used the proceeds to pay rent and to buy a $25,000 Mercedes. The story struck me as sad, not because he was ripping off Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke supporters — whom he targeted — but because at 80 years old, one would have hoped he would have set enough aside so that he could retire from the life of crime. Naturally, I was trying to lather myself into a state of indignation over the growing gaps of income distribution and how poor Mr. Dupont — whose name turns out to be every bit as phony as it sounds — was forced to work until he dropped. I guess in Blythe, where he lives — if one can be said to “live” in a town where the mercury exceeds 92 degrees more days than not — there is no Walmart at which Mr. Dupont could be a greeter.
Mr. Dupont, it turns out, is really named John G. Rinaldo and was fortunate enough to graduate from USC, as did Mr. Caruso and Mr. Caruso’s father. In the 1980s, Rinaldo was a high-rolling finance type living in Orange County. When the housing bubble burst, his company hit the skids. Rinaldo — addicted to a lifestyle to which we all would like to become entitled — responded by embracing a life of crime. Glib and handsome, Rinaldo presented himself as a lawyer and a banker and could. When he needed to show off his success, he would crash the gated-community home of one of his many ex-wives and act as if it was his. He was sentenced time to federal lock up, often in Lompoc — about the only legitimate local hook I could contrive for this account.
Once — during the first Iraq War — he got $360,000 by selling a house that wasn’t his by presenting himself as an attorney for the Kuwaiti owner, who because of the conflict had somehow had his papers scrambled. To look good for that job, Rinaldo had stolen a Mercedes. When locked up in the Twin Towers jail for that crime, Rinaldo represented himself as a banker-lawyer to other prisoners. One of those was a businessman accused of hiring a hitman to kill his brother and business partner, his wife, and his child. Whether he did it or not is not clear. What is clear is that Rinaldo’s testimony helped convict him. And because there were alleged mob ties involved, Rinaldo successfully petitioned to be moved out of Lompoc — where he could be killed as a snitch — to taken somewhere else. En route, he managed to escape, though not for very long. He was apprehended in the prison van he somehow managed to steal.
I have no idea what Carol Folt or Rick Caruso plan to do to turn the ship of USC around, but I would strongly suggest they hire John Pierre Dupont, aka John G. Rinaldo, when he gets out of prison. After all, he graduated from the place. And to steal another often purloined line, it takes a crook to catch a crook.