Robert Repella, a former biotech CEO who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud in connection to his daughter’s admission into Georgetown University as a tennis recruit, will avoid time behind bars.
On Thursday, Judge Allison Burroughs sentenced Repella, 63, to one year of probation and 220 hours of community service. She also fined him $220,000. Prosecutors had sought a 10-month prison sentence.
Repella is one of the 57 individuals charged in Operation Varsity Blues, the college admissions bribery scandal that began in 2019 as Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and other wealthy parents faced charges for misconduct that some regarded as more unethical than criminal. Many of the parents paid admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer to ensure their children would be admitted into elite colleges. Singer then funneled money to college coaches, who falsely designated the children as athletic recruits, a separate and preferential category from the general applicant pool.
The crime was based on honest services fraud. In an unprecedented application of this type of criminal law, the Justice Department maintained these parents and others had conspired to use wire transactions, such as banking, to deprive colleges of their coaches’ honest employment services. The schools, in other words, were the “victims,” even though many schools are known to provide favorable treatment of applicants who are related to large donors.
Repella wasn’t connected to Singer; he agreed to pay then-Hoyas tennis coach Gordon Ernst more than $120,000 directly. Ernst, who also pleaded guilty, was recently sentenced to 30 months in prison and agreed to forfeit more than $3.4 million.
Repella’s case shows the varying degrees of misconduct uncovered in Operation Varsity Blues. While some of the parents paid to have SAT scores altered and phony athletic profiles engineered, Repella’s misdeeds were narrower. In 2017 and 2018, he made several payments, two of which were for $25,000, to Ernst in exchange for including Repella’s daughter as one of his six yearly recruits. The designation meant the daughter would receive favorable treatment in the admissions process at the highly selective Jesuit school. She was admitted and entered Georgetown in 2018.
Unlike many of the children in Operation Varsity Blues, Repella’s daughter was not a “fake athlete.” She was captain of her high school tennis team and won several athletic and academic awards. Repella’s daughter played for the Hoyas in 2018-19, though she struggled on the court, going 1-7 in singles play and 0-5 in doubles play. Prosecutors asserted her tennis abilities “were not at the level of a typical Georgetown recruit.” There are no accusations the daughter’s application to Georgetown contained any untruthful information or that her academic credentials were in any way fabricated or exaggerated. Her father has said she had no idea about his payments, thus implying the accomplished high school tennis player believed she was a real recruit.
Only five of the defendants—including Singer—are still awaiting resolution in their cases. The vast majority have pleaded guilty and received prison sentences of under a year, often no more than a few months.
There are exceptions.
John Wilson, a father of children admitted into Harvard, Stanford and the University of Southern California, went to trial, was convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison (he’s appealing).
Amin Khoury—who, like Repella, was accused of paying Ernst to help a daughter gain admission into Georgetown as a tennis recruit—went to trial and won. Khoury’s legal team, which included Eóin P. Beirne of Mintz Levin, presented evidence and testimony showing that affluent parents whose children apply to top schools tend to receive breaks in admissions. Khoury’s actions, his attorneys successfully argued to jurors, were therefore not atypical and not deserving of a criminal conviction.