Updated January 21, 2021 - 7:13 pm
A Las Vegas family was brought to tears during a recent phone call from Ivanka Trump and singer Jewel, who informed them that their loved one would be coming home from a California prison.
Trump and Jewel told Kyle Kimoto’s six children on Tuesday night that then-President Donald Trump had commuted Kimoto’s prison sentence after he served 12 years of a 29-year sentence for a telemarketing fraud scheme.
“It’s Ivanka Trump calling, and I have Jewel on the line,” she says in a video recording of the phone call. Soon, a voice on the line announces: “President Trump just commuted your dad’s sentence.”
Kimoto’s children immediately wept with joy, knowing they’d see their dad outside of prison. And just moments after the call from Trump, the phone rang again: It was Kimoto, who hadn’t yet heard the news.
“I used my last call of the night to call them on Tuesday, just after 9 p.m.,” Kimoto, 45, said Thursday afternoon. “And when you call you can hear the audio for like half a second before the automated message begins, and all I heard was them cheering, so I knew something good must have happened.”
The family drove to Lompoc, California, on Wednesday morning to pick up Kimoto from prison.
The commutation was made possible through advocacy by Jewel’s Marty Hennessy Inspiring Children Foundation, Kimoto’s ex-wife, Juliette Berkabile, and her husband, Steven Berkabile, Jewel and Ivanka Trump, foundation spokesman Ryan Wolfington said in a statement.
“Mr. Kimoto has been an exemplary prisoner, has held numerous jobs, shown remorse, and mentored other inmates in faith,” the statement said. “Upon his release, he has a job offer and will help care for his six children and three grandchildren.”
Kimoto was convicted in Illinois in 2008. Prosecutors said he masterminded a telemarketing scheme that swindled at least $43 million from more than 300,000 people. Kimoto’s company led consumers to believe they would get credit cards. But those who responded and paid fees of $159 or more didn’t get credit cards. They received an application for a card that had to be loaded with money before it could be used.
‘Most miraculous thing’
The family said that while they were hopeful for a positive outcome after months of fighting for Kimoto’s release, they knew the odds were not in their favor. His 20-year-old daughter, Kahlea Kimoto, said that Tuesday was the best day of her life.
“It just know it was the most miraculous thing I’ll ever experience in my life,” she said, adding that it’s been strange but incredible spending time with her dad outside of prison. Kahlea was 7 when her father was convicted, so the majority of their relationship has taken place via letters, phone calls and visits a few times a year.
Steven Berkabile, the Kimoto kids’ stepfather, said the letters Kimoto wrote to his kids and ex-wife over the years were a big part of what made his commutation possible. He worked with his friend Wolfington over the past few months to push for the commutation before Donald Trump left office.
Wolfington works closely with Jewel through the foundation and said the singer has a reputation for advocating for prisoners who she believes deserve to have their sentences commuted.
When her attorneys reached out to him about a new prisoner to advocate for, Wolfington said he immediately recommended Kimoto.
“I read the letters, and I was just blown away by the level of sincerity and the inner wisdom in those letters,” Wolfington said Thursday.
“And it made me realize that this person has had a spiritual transformation.”
Wolfington said he was in awe of the family’s story and the way Kimoto was dedicated to co-parenting his children from prison.
Steven Berkabile said that the two fathers had communicated constantly over the years.
“Along with the letters he would send to his children, he would also send letters saying, ‘Hey, here’s discussions or family time lessons I would like to teach the children,’ ” Berkabile said. “They were all right along with our beliefs and values. So he was getting to be a part of it, and we were getting to be a part of it, so it was really an effort to be a great parent, even from prison. And that showed me his real character.”
Juliette Berkabile said the unity and support within the large family was shocking given all they’d been through. When Kimoto was convicted, she said she was cut off financially and left with six kids in the middle of the recession. The family lost their house and car and lived off of food stamps until she met Berkabile, she said, who was willing to take on six kids in addition to the three he already had, as well as an incarcerated ex-husband.
“This is not a typical story of incarceration,” Juliette said. “It’s kind of the ideal in the sense of making the best out of the worst.”
Kimoto said he wants to focus on strengthening his relationships with his children, his wife’s stepchildren and his grandchildren.
“I just want to take it slow and see what the next day is going to bring, versus trying to hurry things up and make time,” Kimoto said. “It’s just a day at a time, and I want to enjoy every second of it.”
Review-Journal staff writer Glenn Puit contributed to this report.