An accomplished tennis coach with Cranston roots is facing new charges in connection with the “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal that drew headlines across the nation earlier this year.
Gordon Ernst is among the defendants facing new charges through a superseding indictment brought by a federal grant jury in Massachusetts last week, according to a release from the office of Boston U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling.
In March, Ernst was indicted on one count of conspiracy to commit racketeering. The new charges against him include conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, federal programs bribery, aiding and abetting wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, aiding and abetting mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, and aiding and abetting money laundering.
The various charges carry prison terms ranging up to 20 years and fines of up to $250,000, according to prosecutors. A status conference in Ernst’s case is scheduled for Jan. 17.
Ernst, more commonly known by the nickname Gordie, resigned from his position as women’s tennis coach at the University of Rhode Island in March, shortly after the university placed him on administrative leave.
The charges stem from his time as the head coach of the men’s and women’s tennis teams at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
At the center of the case against Ernst is a for-profit college counseling and preparation business known as the Edge College & Career Network LLC, or “The Key,” based in California and founded by William “Rick” Singer, as well as the Key Worldwide Foundation, a California nonprofit established by Singer.
In the original indictment, authorities alleged Ernst received more than $2.7 million in bribes from Singer – falsely labeled as consulting fees and typically transferred via mailed checks from one of the foundation’s charitable accounts – between 2007 and 2018.
In exchange, authorities say, Ernst “designated at least 12 applicants as recruits for the Georgetown tennis team, including some who did not play tennis competitively, thereby facilitating their admission to Georgetown.”
The new indictment outlines the additional charges against Ernst, alleging that he “conspired with Singer and others known and unknown to the grand jury to solicit and accept bribes in exchange for securing the admission of applicants to Georgetown as purported tennis recruits.” The purposes of the conspiracy, the indictment alleges, were to “facilitate the admission of applicants to Georgetown” and “enrich Ernst personally.”
The conspiracy involved “accepting and soliciting bribes in exchange for designating applicants as purported tennis recruits, with little or no regard for their tennis abilities”; “fabricating athletic credentials” in support of admissions applications; and concealing the bribery or fraud from Georgetown admissions officials.
The indictment outlines an instance in which the parent of an applicant is alleged to have directly paid Ernst thousands of dollars in 2017 and 2018 as part of an approximately $220,000 recruitment-related bribe. The bribe also included direct payments to private schools to cover the tuition costs of Ernst’s children, the indictment alleges.
Singer is alleged to have been paid millions of dollars by clients over several years for the purpose of bribing coaches and university administrators to falsely designate children as recruited athletes. He is also alleged to have engaged in the bribing of SAT and ACT exam administrators to allow cheating on the tests.
During a March press conference regarding the initial indictments, Lelling said the case was “complex and extremely labor intensive.”
“We’re not talking about donating a building so that a school’s more likely to take your son or daughter. We’re talking about deception and fraud – fake test scores, fake athletic credentials, fake photographs, bribed college officials,” he said.
Coaches at Yale University, Standford Univesity, the University of Southern California and Wake Forest University are among others charged in the alleged scheme.
A number of parents are also among the dozens of people who have been charged, including a pair of well-known actresses – Felicity Huffman, whose credits include the television show “Desperate Housewives,” and Lori Loughlin of “Full House” fame. Huffman received a brief prison sentence, while Loughlin is among those facing new charges.
Ernst spent 12 years as Georgetown’s tennis coach before returning to Rhode Island for the URI job in 2018. He also previously coached tennis at the University of Pennsylvania and served as head tennis pro for former President Barack Obama’s family.
A high school tennis and hockey standout during his time at Bishop Hendricken and Cranston East, Ernst attended Brown University – where he also starred in athletics – and was drafted by the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars in 1985. He is a member of the New England Tennis Hall of Fame, Rhode Island Interscholastic Hall of Fame and Cranston Athletic Hall of Fame.
He is the son of the late Dick Ernst, who was a renowned hockey and tennis coach in Rhode Island.