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Pennsylvania man pleads guilty to paying bribe for daughter's admission to Georgetown

Robert Repella, a former biotech executive, could get 10 months behind bars for the scheme.
Image: Georgetown University
A view of Georgetown University campus in Washington, DC on Aug. 19, 2018.Daniel Slim / AFP - Getty Images file

A former biotech executive pleaded guilty to a federal charge on Tuesday and admitted paying $50,000 to Georgetown University's former tennis coach to get his daughter admitted to the prestigious school.

Robert Repella, a 61-year-old resident of Ambler, Pa., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud during a video conference held by U.S. District Court Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston.

Repella's offense is not part of the conspiracy led by "Operative Varsity Blues" mastermind Rick Singer, prosecutors said, though federal agents stumbled onto the Pennsylvania man during the probe that rocked higher education last year.

Former Georgetown men's and women's tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who's accused of pocketing $2.7 million in bribes, has pleaded not guilty to a host charges connected to the alleged "Varsity Blues" conspiracy.

He left Georgetown in 2017 after an internal school probe questioned his recruits and he was later hired at the University of Rhode Island before resigning last year amid the scandal.

Judge Burroughs set Repella's sentencing for Sept. 23, when she'll decide whether to accept a deal that calls for Repella -- former CEO of Harmony Biosciences -- to be sentenced to 10 months in prison and fined $40,000.

Repella had been president and CEO in 2017-18 before he "ceased to be employed by Harmony Biosciences LLC as of June 25, 2018," according to a company spokeswoman on Tuesday.

The ongoing admissions scandal led to the arrests of more than 50 parents and educators accused of using big-dollar, backdoor methods to get children into elite colleges.

Parents paid Singer large sums to inflate student resumes by passing them off as elite athletes when they usually had no connection to the sport in question. In major college athletics, coaches are often given wide latitude to get their recruited student-athletes admitted.

Repella and Ernst allegedly dealt directly, without the middle man Singer, prosecutors said. Repella's case also stands out because his daughter actually played the sport that was central to the bribe.

She was a "nationally ranked tennis player who did in fact play on that (Georgetown) team and was successful on the team and she will remain a student at Georgetown," defense lawyer Robert Fisher told the court.

Repella's daughter played on Georgetown's team as a freshman in 2018-19, going 1-7 in singles play and 0-5 in doubles. She left the tennis program before her sophomore season.

When Repella's daughter signed with Georgetown in 2018, the evaluation service Tennis Recruiting Network rated her a 1-star recruit, in stark contrast to the next two classes of Georgetown tennis admits who were all 4- and 5-star talents.

"My daughter had nothing to do with this," Repella told the judge.

After court, in a statement through his representative, Repella iterated that his daughter is in good standing at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies.

"I sincerely regret and take full responsibility for my actions, which were mine and mine alone," he said. "My family, and most importantly, my daughter, knew nothing about this. A Georgetown University review determined that the academic and athletic qualifications my daughter submitted in her application were factual and truthful and she remains a student in good standing at Georgetown."