Varsity Blues Mom, G.U. Tennis Coach Get Prison Time

Former Georgetown University head tennis coach Gordon Ernst, 54, and Elizabeth Kimmel, 57. a mother of a Georgetown University student athlete applicant, are going to prison after pleading guilty in their involvement in the so-called FBI operation, “Varsity Blues” student admission scandal, that has been brewing for more than two years.

Both Kimmel and Ernst were charged with making and accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to get Kimmel’s children accepted into  Georgetown University and the University of Southern California, mainly through highly inflated but unchecked claims of athletic achievement. It was a so-called a “side door” for children of very wealthy parents to be accepted into elite U.S. colleges, created by convicted California-based college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer.

In 2019, Kimmel allegedly colluded with Singer and Coach Ernst to pay $275,000 to facilitate her daughter’s admission to Georgetown University. The plan allegedly allocated a tennis admission slot to her daughter, even though she was not a competitive tennis player and was not actually being recruited to play on the Georgetown tennis team. Kimmel allegedly further agreed with Singer and others to pay $250,000 to facilitate her son’s admission to the University of Southern California as a pole vault recruit, even though he was not a pole vaulter.

On Aug. 16, Kimmel pled guilty to lesser charges of mail and wire fraud. Under the terms of the plea agreement, according to court records, the concerned parties agreed that Kimmel should serve a sentence of six weeks in prison and two years of supervised release, with the first year spent in home confinement. Kimmel will also be required to pay a $250,000 fine and perform 500 hours of community service.

On Sept. 17, Ernst changed his innocent plea to guilty under a pending plea deal. Court documents show that the former head tennis coach was accused of taking more than $2.7 million in bribes for coveted spots on Georgetown’s tennis teams between 2012 and 2018. He was also charged with failing to report much of that money on federal income taxes. Ernst faced between one and four years in prison, two years of supervised release and forfeiture of $3.4 million. A plea hearing has not yet been scheduled.

“47 of the 57 people charged under Varsity Blues have already accepted plea deals”, noted Daniel Medwed, Northeastern University law professor and TV news legal analyst on Sept. 21. “The most likely explanation is that it’s incredibly risky to go to trial because federal sentencing guidelines are so harsh. You typically face a much, much steeper sentence if convicted at trial than anything contained in a pretrial plea offer. Critics call this differential a “trial tax.” If you’re offered a plea of three years when facing a sentence of ten if you go to trial and lose, then it’s effectively a seven-year tax on exercising your right to trial.”

The charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud provides for a sentence of up 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Two of the Varsity Blues accused fathers, however, Gamal Abdelaziz and John Wilson, have chosen to plead not guilty and are the first to face a trial by jury that began in Boston Sept. 21.  “Specifically, it seems like the defense strategy is to show there’s reason to believe the two dads  thought they were making legitimate contributions as part of genuine fundraising campaigns,”Medwed said. “They will claim that Rick Singer , the college consultant who served as an intermediary between the families and the universities, basically deceived them”.

U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton scheduled sentencing for Kimmel on Dec. 9, 2021.


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