Varsity Blues Endure as Georgetown Tennis Parent Fights ‘Property’ Charge

·4 min read

While most of the “Operation Varsity Blues” cases have been resolved through plea deals, several related cases remain on the docket. One involves a parent who insists that the government’s theory of crime—parents fraudulently deprived prestigious universities by bribing coaches to facilitate their kids’ admissions as “fake” athletes —doesn’t add up.

Amin Khoury is that parent.

Last September a Massachusetts grand jury indicted Khoury. He faces one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and bribery, and one count of bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds. If they lead to convictions, these two charges collectively carry a maximum prison sentence of 15 years (a first-time offender would receive a much shorter sentence).

Khoury, the son of former KLX Energy CEO Amin J. Khoury, is accused of agreeing to pay then-Georgetown tennis coach Gordon “Gordie” Ernst a $200,000 bribe in 2014 in exchange for Ernst designating Khoury’s daughter a tennis recruit. Ernst is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes for as many as a dozen Georgetown applicants. He faces his own set of criminal charges.

According to the indictment, Khoury, like other parents ensnared in the federal shakedown of pay-for-admissions, sought to exploit an admissions process. Georgetown is one of the most selective colleges in the country. According to PrepScholar, the school’s admitted pool has a 1450 median SAT and 4.01 median GPA. Recruited athletes, however, enjoy what the indictment describes as a “substantially higher chance” of admission compared to non-recruits with similar grades and standardized test scores. Khoury’s daughter, who played No. 6 singles and third doubles on her high school tennis team, was admitted to Georgetown as a tennis recruit. She paid full tuition.

Unlike parents implicated in Varsity Blues, Khoury didn’t work with William “Rick” Singer, the infamous admissions consultant who masterminded pay-for-admissions schemes for several celebrities. There’s also no allegation of test score manipulation or other academic chicanery. Here, the alleged misdeed is rather simple: a bribe that helped Khoury’s daughter, who played high school tennis but (as depicted by prosecutors) not at a level good enough to warrant recruit status, gain admission into Georgetown under a less scrutinizing standard.

Attorneys for Khoury recently sought the dismissal of the conspiracy to commit fraud count, but in a July 2 order, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper dismissed Khoury’s motion.

For prosecutors to prove fraud, they must show Khoury engaged in a scheme where the purpose was to deprive the victim, Georgetown University, of money or property. He insists that a college admissions slot is not “property” and that, even if it is property, he lacked the purpose to deprive Georgetown.

As Khoury sees it, an admissions slot comprises an educational service and thus can’t meet the statutory definition of fraud. “When Mr. Khoury’s daughter accepted the offer of admission to Georgetown, paid tuition and enrolled,” wrote Khoury’s attorney, Eóin P. Beirne of Mintz Levin, “they exchanged educational services for those payments.”

Beirne stressed precedent, including the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Plyler. There the Court reasoned that supplying false information in an application to the federal civil services doesn’t deprive the government of a recognized form of property. The attorney also cited the Supreme Court’s ruling in Cleveland v. U.S., where the Court rejected the classification of an unissued video poker license as property. These cases arguably stand for the proposition that admissions into a particular field is not itself a form of property.

Judge Casper wasn’t convinced. She reasoned that “an offer to attend Georgetown” counts as property, because there are a finite number of highly coveted offers. This is especially true for athletic recruits. Further, the judge surmised, an offer to attend the Washington D.C.-based school “includes not just the conferral of a degree or the provision of educational instruction, but also access to a host of other benefits that Georgetown has to offer, from its facilities to its network and reputation.”

Georgetown, Judge Casper reasoned, also has a right to control its property. It presumably wouldn’t have offered an admissions slot to Khoury’s daughter if the school had known her dad (allegedly) bribed the coach. The judge also distinguished an unissued video poker license from a Georgetown admissions slot, since the former is held by a government regulator whereas the latter is held by a private entity.

As another argument, Khoury contends that Georgetown suffered no financial harm from his daughter’s admissions and thus can’t be victim of fraud. His daughter wasn’t offered, and didn’t receive, any athletic scholarship or financial aid. Instead, Khoury paid full tuition. “Georgetown,” Beirne wrote, “received the ‘full economic benefit’ of Mr. Khoury’s daughter’s admissions . . . . [I]t was not deprived of property.” Judge Casper disagreed, finding “that argument ignores the inherent value associated with the admissions slots set aside for qualified recruits.”

The case continues to proceed toward trial, at a date to be determined.

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