A parent responsible for $525,000 in bribes to have her daughter and son admitted as “fake athletes” into Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, respectively, has been sentenced to six weeks in prison.
Elisabeth Kimmel admitted in a guilty plea that she conspired with infamous admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to guarantee her children admission at the two universities. Through her family’s charitable foundation, Kimmel paid $275,000 so that then-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst would allocate a tennis admission slot to her daughter. Several years later, Kimmel oversaw a $250,000 payment so that her son would nab a spot as a USC pole vaulter. The scheme was hardly foolproof: The daughter wasn’t a competitive tennis player, and the son wasn’t a pole vaulter.
Kimmel, 56, was president of the San Diego-based Midwest Television, which had owned KFMB stations in San Diego. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School and resides in both Las Vegas and La Jolla. In August, she pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
Last Thursday, Judge Nathaniel Gorton of Boston’s federal district court sentenced Kimmel. In addition to a month-and-a-half behind bars, she faces two years of supervised release (with the first year spent in home confinement), 500 hours of community service and a fine of $250,000. She is the 29th parent to be sentenced in Operation Varsity Blues, a scandal often linked to actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, which also ensnared dozens of other affluent, if less known, parents.
Like those parents, Kimmel was part of a brazen scheme to falsely portray children’s credentials as they pursued admissions at highly selective schools. The indictment detailed how the daughter’s application to Georgetown claimed she played “Southern California Junior Tennis” and was a “ranked player.” As prosecutors confirmed with the U.S. Tennis Association, neither was true.
Yet the Georgetown admissions office, at the urging of Ernst, placed her into a different pool of applicants. Recruited athletes at Georgetown, like at many colleges, enjoy a “substantially higher” chance of admission. This is true, the Justice Department stresses, when comparing recruited athletes to “non-recruits with similar grades and standardized test scores.” Kimmel’s daughter graduated from Georgetown in 2017. She was not on the Hoyas tennis team at any point.
Kimmel’s son had a similar experience in his successful attempt to enroll at USC. His application materials claimed he was an elite high school pole vaulter, and went so far as to include an athletic profile with a photograph of a young man pole vaulting:
The profile claimed it was him. It was someone else. In fact, Kimmel’s son had not pole vaulted or participated in track and field at his high school.
The son, however, had not prepared his USC application. A person retained by Kimmel to draft the application had done so. This presented a problem when the son attended USC orientation and his adviser thought he was a track athlete. A wiretapped conversation excerpted in the indictment details how Kimmel and her husband worried their son had told his adviser she was mistaken. He insisted he was not a track athlete. The adviser responded that USC academic records clearly stated he was a track athlete and she’d need to investigate. The parents agonized that the adviser would start “poking around” and figure out the source of the discrepancy. Singer later suggested to Kimmel she should simply explain that her son “had an injury over the summer, to his shoulder, and so he stopped vaulting.”
Although the admissions offices implicated in Operation Varsity Blues would seem worthy of some blame—they didn’t catch the fraud—they’re treated as victims for purposes of the law. Universities were deprived of the “honest services” of their coaches, who were bribed to dupe admissions officers into admitting high school students whom the coaches knew were not actual recruits. The parents furthered the conspiracy by wiring payments and plotting through electronic communications.
If the parents had instead donated money to the schools, in hopes those schools would then become more likely to admit their children, there would have been no crime. That’s because there would have been no deprivation of honest services. Singer and associates, however, persuaded parents to bribe coaches. Instead of having to donate millions of dollars to schools to secure admission, they could spend “merely” six figures and accomplish the same goal.
Singer, who pleaded guilty to four felonies, has yet to be sentenced. He faces a maximum of 65 years in prison. However, because Singer cooperated with prosecutors by turning over evidence on his clients—the parents—he’ll likely receive a much shorter sentence.