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Mother with Las Vegas ties to plead guilty in college bribery case

Updated August 12, 2021 - 5:50 pm

A former media executive with Las Vegas ties has struck a tentative deal with prosecutors that would send her to prison for less than two months for her role in a sweeping national college bribery scam.

Elisabeth Kimmel, now 57, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, the Department of Justice announced Thursday. A hearing is scheduled for Monday in Boston, where the case is being prosecuted.

Kimmel, who is accused of paying more than a half-million dollars in bribes, is expected to be sentenced to six weeks in prison and two years of supervised release, with the first year spent under house arrest. In addition, she would be required to pay a $250,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service.

The tentative deal was reached more than two years after authorities went public in March 2019 with details of Operation Varsity Blues, described as the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the DOJ. Officials tallied the estimated bribes at $25 million.

Kimmel and her husband, Gregory, who is not charged in the scheme, had relocated to Las Vegas from Southern California just months before the 2019 indictment. Clark County property records indicate that the couple still owns a penthouse just east of the Las Vegas Strip, in the Turnberry Towers, though authorities on Thursday described Kimmel as a resident of La Jolla, California.

At the time of the indictment, records showed, Kimmel was the owner and president of Midwest Television Inc., which previously owned a CBS-affiliated television station in San Diego as well as two San Diego radio stations.

If her deal goes through, she will be the 32nd parent to plead guilty in the scheme. Among her famous co-defendants are Hollywood stars Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, both of whom were offered deals similar to Kimmel’s plea agreement.

Prosecutors have said that Kimmel paid $275,000 to guarantee her daughter Katharine’s 2013 admission to Georgetown University as a tennis recruit. Her daughter, who was not a competitive tennis player, graduated in 2017 but was never a member of the university’s tennis team.

By late 2017, prosecutors allege, Kimmel had forked over an additional $250,000 — this time to secure her son’s 2018 admission to the University of Southern California as a pole vault recruit. Her son, Thomas, was not a pole vaulter.

Court records indicate that Kimmel’s children did not know about her alleged actions.

Kimmel’s team of defense attorneys did not respond Thursday to a request for comment regarding the plea deal, which eliminates the need for Kimmel to stand trial.

Her trial in Massachusetts with several other defendants, including Las Vegas resident Gamal Abdelaziz, had been scheduled to begin next month. Brian Kelly, attorney for Abdelaziz, said Thursday that his client will still be headed to trial after Labor Day.

A prominent figure in the hotel-casino industry, Abdelaziz is accused of spending big money to get his daughter, Sabrina, into USC as a basketball recruit.

Both Kimmel’s son and Abdelaziz’s daughter began school at USC in the fall of 2018, according to court documents. USC officials confirmed on Thursday that the two were enrolled as students this semester.

Last August, in a statement, USC said it had identified 33 students believed to have been involved “in admissions deceit.” Of those students, 21 were deemed to have violated university policy, and discipline ranged from a deferred suspension to expulsion.

During that review, the university also learned that an average of 12 student-athletes a year, dating back to at least 2012, ultimately were not on a team roster, although “some” of those applicants did not end up on a team roster “for legitimate reasons.” On average, 240 students are admitted to the university each year as student-athletes, according to USC.

Contact Rio Lacanlale at rlacanlale@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Follow @riolacanlale on Twitter.

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