San Diego media executive appears in federal court on college admissions scandal charges

Elisabeth Kimmel
San Diego Union-Tribune

Elisabeth Kimmel, the wealthy former San Diego media executive charged with paying bribes to get her children into USC and Georgetown, appeared briefly Monday in San Diego federal court, where she was ordered to give up her passport as part of a $500,000 no-cash deposit bond package.

Kimmel was charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services fraud in a sweeping, 200-page complaint issued last week by federal prosecutors in Boston that also ensnared other super-wealthy parents including actors and corporate executives.

Prosecutors contend that for nearly a decade, the parents illegally doled out a total of $25 million in bribes to a group of corrupt coaches and sports administrators in some of the nation’s elite colleges and universities. The scheme was orchestrated by William “Rick” Singer, who ran a college counseling and preparation business out of Newport Beach.

Kimmel, whose family owned San Diego television and radio stations KFMB until she sold them them in 2017 for $325 million, appeared in court with her husband, Gregory. He’s a former San Diego County deputy district attorney who is not charged in the case.


The couple sat silently in the front row of the courtroom of Magistrate Judge Nita Stormes before the brief hearing began.

Kimmel said only one word — a soft “yes” — when Stormes asked her if she agreed to appear in court in Boston for the case. She is due to appear there on March 29.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark Conover said prosecutors wanted a $500,000 signature bond set. That is the type of bond where no money is required to be put down, and a simple signature of the person promising to show up in court is required. Failure to show could result in monetary penalties.

Conover also requested that Kimmel, who lives part time in Las Vegas, also give up her passport and be allowed to travel only in the U.S. Her lawyer, Gregory Vega, did not object to either condition, but asked for 48 hours to retrieve her passport from Las Vegas so it could be turned over.

Outside the hearing, both Kimmels declined to comment when approached by a reporter.

Singer’s scheme involved what he called a “side door” into top schools and was actually a bribe scheme. Parents would pay funds into a nonprofit foundation he ran, and the money was then distributed to coaches and athletic administrators at the schools to get the students accepted.

In each case, the students posed as athletes, complete with fake achievements and profiles, which helped them gain admission. In virtually all cases, the students weren’t athletes in the sports they were presented as excelling in.

Singer had developed a network of corrupt college sports coaches and administrators who ushered the bogus applications through as “recruits” for various teams. Once admitted, most students never participated in the sport. Singer pleaded guilty March 12 to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering conspiracy and other charges and is cooperating with federal authorities.

The complaint says Elisabeth Kimmel paid $275,000 to get her daughter into Georgetown in 2012, and another $200,000 for her son to get into USC in 2017. Her daughter posed as a tennis player (she actually played field hockey) and her son as a pole vaulter, though he never participated in track and field.

Money for the bribes was paid out of the Meyer Charitable Foundation, her family’s charity, the complaint alleges.

Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.