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Despite fake records, indicted media executive’s child could keep U.S.C. degree

A former University of Southern California student whose parents falsified academic records in order to secure his admission into the school will likely be able to keep a degree awarded to him last.

Thomas “Tommy” Kimmel was admitted to U.S.C. several years ago with the assistance of Key Worldwide Foundation, an education consulting firm that was recently embroiled in a complex criminal case in which federal prosecutors alleged the founder of the company falsified records and helped prospective applicants cheat on admissions tests in order to secure preferred placement at prestigious colleges and universities.

Kimmel’s mother, former San Diego media executive Elisabeth Mayer-Kimmel, was one of nearly five dozen individuals named in a criminal complaint unsealed earlier this week that alleged willful participation in the scheme. According to federal prosecutors, Mayer-Kimmel paid Key Worldwide Foundation more than $500,000 from a charitable trust set up in her late father’s name in order to help Kimmel secure a spot at U.S.C.

The scheme involved falsifying athletic records to claim Kimmel was a champion high school pole vaulter, federal authorities said. At least one photo included in the fake portfolio was digitally altered to include Kimmel’s face over the body of an actual pole vaulter, authorities claimed.

Meyer-Kimmel, whose family-owned company once operated San Diego CBS affiliate KFMB (Channel 8), faces one felony count of mail fraud. Her husband, former San Diego Deputy District Attorney Gregory Kimmel, has not been charged.

On Wednesday, school officials at U.S.C. said they were thoroughly investigating current students who may have been admitted through the scheme and would decide whether to expel them on a case-by-case basis. The school said some students who have already been admitted may have been minors at the time their parents were allegedly involved in the scheme and may not have known about the conspiracy.

The school said prospective students whose parents took part in the alleged scheme would have their offer letters rescinded. It also said employees who were identified as participants in the alleged scheme were fired because of the criminal charges against them.

While some current students and all prospective students connected to the scandal may face consequences because of it, the conspiracy is unlikely to affect students who have already graduated and secured degrees from U.S.C., including Kimmel.

According to disciplinary guidance documents published on U.S.C.’s website, one of the more severe consequences for falsifying academic records and other forms of academic dishonesty includes “revocation of admission or degree.” But the school policy places the burden of following its acceptable behavior mandates on the student; copies of U.S.C.’s campus handbook did not say the acceptable behavior policy extended to family members of current or prospective students or other individuals.

Kimmel may not have known about the conspiracy his mother allegedly participated in to secure his placement at U.S.C., according to court records. A criminal complaint unsealed as part of a lengthy docket detailing the scheme said Kimmel appeared genuinely baffled when a guidance counselor at U.S.C. questioned him about his athletic abilities. When Kimmel was asked if he participated in pole vaulting in high school, Kimmel responded “no,” according to the documents.

That honesty could work in Kimmel’s favor as school officials continue to respond to the unfolding scandal that has ensnared it and other prestigious colleges and universities throughout the country. Some of those schools may be limited in their ability to respond due to local laws governing how and when a college degree can be revoked after it is awarded.

Earlier this year, a judge in Texas ruled the University of Texas at Austin had no right to revoke a doctorate in chemistry awarded to a student who faced allegations of scientific misconduct. The judge said existing state law held that only a “court of competent jurisdiction” could “set aside or annul” a degree once it is awarded by a college or university anywhere in Texas.

The University of Texas at Austin was among the schools identified by federal prosecutors this week as a victim of the college admissions scandal.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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