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Las Vegas suspects in college bribery case set for hearing in Boston

Updated March 13, 2019 - 8:08 pm

The two Las Vegas parents charged in the national college bribery scheme are due in federal court in Boston at the end of the month.

Former Strip casino executive Gamal Aziz and former San Diego media executive Elisabeth Kimmel each are accused of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to gain their children admission into elite universities.

Both face charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud. Veteran Las Vegas attorney Bill Terry said those are common federal charges.

“Usually these apply to public officials, like a councilman, a county commissioner, a city commissioner,” Terry said. “So it’s somewhat unique that they’re not politicians. But they still fall under the statute.”

March 29 hearing

Aziz is accused of paying a $300,000 bribe for his daughter’s admission to the University of Southern California as a basketball recruit. She began attending the school in the fall but is not on the basketball team.

Nothing in court records indicates that his daughter knew about any arrangements.

The father, who was charged as Gamal Abdelaziz, appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge on Tuesday in Las Vegas wearing leg shackles, according to federal court minutes. After a brief hearing, Aziz, who uses a shortened version of his last name, was released on his own recognizance.

A federal public defender represented Aziz at the hearing, but the court minutes reflect that Aziz intends to retain counsel in Massachusetts, where the case is being prosecuted.

Kimmel is accused of paying $275,000 through a family foundation for her daughter’s admission to Georgetown University as a tennis recruit in 2013. She also is accused of paying at least $200,000 through the same foundation for her son’s admission into USC as a track recruit.

Her daughter graduated from Georgetown in 2017 but never played tennis. Her son, who began school in the fall, is not on the track team.

Nothing in court records indicates that Kimmel’s son or daughter knew about any arrangements.

Kimmel is slated to appear in Boston on March 29. It is unclear why she will not be appearing in Nevada first, though Terry speculated that a lawyer made the arrangement with prosecutors. Aziz also is scheduled to appear March 29.

Nearly 50 people, including Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were named in the case. Several former school coaches and athletics officials also were charged.

Cooperating witness

Court records include transcriptions of recorded phone calls between a cooperating witness and each of the Las Vegas parents.

In a phone call with Aziz, the unidentified witness discussed the quality of a fake basketball profile someone had prepared for his daughter, noting that USC Associate Athletic Director Donna Heinel “loved it.”

“‘It was really well done,” the witness said, quoting Heinel, ‘“and going forward, anybody who isn’t a real basketball player that’s a female, I want you to use that profile going forward.’”

“I love it,” Aziz replied.

Heinel also has been charged in the case and was fired Tuesday.

In a separate phone call with Aziz, the witness mentioned that, if anyone asks Heinel why his daughter isn’t on the basketball team, Heinel is prepared to say that she has plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of heel tissue that is “typical for a lot of athletes.”

“That’s fine,” Aziz said. “I will answer the same, should they call me.”

In a recorded phone call with Kimmel and her husband, Gregory, the couple raised concerns about their son’s orientation at USC, during which their son met with an academic adviser.

“Apparently the adviser said something to the effect of, ‘Oh, so you’re a track athlete?’ And [my son] said, ‘No,’” Gregory Kimmel said, according to the records. “’Cause, so [my son] has no idea, and that’s what — the way we want to keep it.”

Gregory Kimmel is not facing charges in connection with the case. Evidence of knowledge of a bribery scheme may not be enough for prosecutors to charge him, Terry said.

“He would have had to do some act in furtherance of the mail fraud or honest services fraud,” Terry said. “Provided money, for example. Cosigned a letter.”

The husband did sign a $50,000 check donated to the USC Women’s Athletic Board, according to court records. But it’s unclear if that donation was directly linked to the alleged admission scheme.

In another recorded phone call with Elisabeth Kimmel, the witness directed the woman to say that her son “had an injury over the summer,” should admissions call her asking why he isn’t showing up for track practice.

“Okay,” Elisabeth Kimmel said before the call ended.

A short time later, she called the witness back, asking if admissions might be calling her son about it, too. The witness said no.

“Then I won’t say anything to [my son],” Elisabeth Kimmel said, “‘cause he’s (laughs) —”

“No, don’t say anything,” the witness said.

” — still in the dark,” the mother continued.

USC officials did not respond to a request for comment as to whether the enrollment status of Kimmel’s son or Aziz’s daughter would change as a result of the parents’ charges.

But a statement issued Tuesday afternoon said USC is aware of the “wide-ranging criminal investigation” and noted that the university “is reviewing its admissions processes broadly to ensure that such actions do not occur going forward.”

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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