BOSTON – A former Georgetown University tennis coach accused of accepting more than $ 2 million in bribes to help children get into school will plead guilty in the massive admissions scandal at the university, according to court documents filed Wednesday.
Gordon Ernst’s decision to plead guilty comes as the first trial in the massive case that has trapped wealthy parents and athletic coaches across the country unfolds in federal court in Boston.
Ernst, who was due to stand trial in November, has agreed to admit charges, including conspiracy to bribe federal programs, court records show. His lawyer declined to comment on Wednesday.
Prosecutors agreed to recommend a maximum sentence of four years in prison, according to the plea deal. Ernst has promised to ask for no less than a year behind bars.
Ernst, who was the head coach of the men’s and women’s tennis at Georgetown, was arrested in March 2019 along with more than four dozen others in the so-called “Operation Varsity Blues” case which exposed a ploy to getting undeserving children into elite universities with test scores or fake athletic credentials.
Ernst has been accused of receiving bribes from admissions consultant at the center of the program, Rick Singer, in exchange for appointing several candidates as Georgetown tennis rookies.
Ernst, who was also the personal tennis trainer of former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, left Georgetown in 2018 after an internal investigation was launched into what the school described as “irregularities. in the athletic references “of the students he recruited found he had violated admission rules.
He was then hired by the University of Rhode Island, which claimed it had not been made aware of the admissions rule violations. He resigned from this school shortly after his arrest.
Ernst had been battling the charges for more than two years and was due to stand trial alongside former University of Southern California senior associate athletic director Donna Heinel and two other coaches: the former water polo coach USC Jovan Vavic and former Wake Forest University girls’ volleyball coach William Ferguson.
A total of 57 people have been charged in the case and nearly four dozen have already pleaded guilty.
The longest sentence to date was nine months for former Pacific Investment Management Co. CEO Douglas Hodge, who paid bribes totaling $ 850,000 to bring in four of his children. at USC and Georgetown as athletic rookies.
Two parents – former casino manager Gamal Abdelaziz and former Staples and Gap Inc. manager John Wilson – are on trial for paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their children enter USC by falsely presenting them as sports recruits. Wilson is also accused of paying more than a million dollars to buy his twin daughters’ tickets to Harvard and Stanford.
The trial is expected to last several weeks. Defense attorneys told jurors in their opening statements Monday that the parents had been duped by Singer and made it appear that their payments were legitimate donations.
Singer, who began cooperating with investigators in 2018 and secretly recorded his phone calls with parents, was expected to be a key witness for the government. But prosecutors told jurors on Monday they would not call him to stand.
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