Gordon Ernst, an ex-Georgetown tennis coach, was accused of accepting over $2 million in bribes as part of a college admissions scandal. Court documents revealed on Wednesday that Ernst plans on pleading guilty.
The trial, known for the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal, which famously included “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman, “Full House” star Lori Laughlin, and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, who is a fashion designer, had its first day on Wednesday in a Boston federal courthouse.
30 other wealthy parents have also pleaded guilty to bribing schools to help their children get in.
Most famously known for training Michelle Obama and her daughters, Ernst resigned in disgrace in 2018, after an internal investigation found that there were “irregularities in the athletic credentials” of certain student recruits. The school later confirmed that he was in complete violation of the university’s admissions guidelines.
Though not set to go on trial until November, Gordon Ernst agreed to accept the charges of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and plead guilty. According to the plea agreement, prosecutors advised a sentence of no more than four years, while Ernst faces at least one year behind bars.
Gordon Ernst also agreed to return over $3.4 million that he allegedly earned as part of the scheme in forfeiture.
As well as including untrue athletic achievements and credentials, many parents and coaches as part of the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal also falsified the undeserving students’ test scores. Court documents revealed that Gordon Ernst was contacted by Rick Singer, the admissions consultant at the center of the controversy, who bribed Ernst to mark that multiple student applicants were considered special tennis recruits.
Singer eventually pleaded guilty and started to operate with the authorities as part of the investigation, secretly taping phone calls with parents and coaches that will be heard over the course of the months-long trial.
The case involves a total of over 57 parents and coaches, and some, such as former University of Southern California athletic director Donna Heinel, USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic, and Wake Forest University women’s volleyball coach William Ferguson, had previously planned to fight the claims with Ernst before he pleaded guilty.
Despite many parents and coaches pleading guilty, some still plan to fight the charges.
Parent Douglas Hodge, CEO of the Pacific Investment Management Co., has received the longest sentence so far at nine months in jail. According to court records he paid over $850,000 in bribes to get his four kids into Georgetown and USC.
Gap Inc. executive John Wilson is on trial for paying over $1 million to get his twin daughters into Harvard and Stanford, and casino executive Gamal Abdelaziz allegedly paid Gordon Ernst hundreds of thousands to pass his children off as tennis recruits.
Defense attorneys alleged that in the phone calls with Singer, their clients believed that the massive amount of money they gave him were simply donations to the university.
“It’s not illegal to give money to schools with the hope that it helps your kid get in,” Gamal Abdelaziz’s attorney, Brian Kelly, told jurors as part of his opening statement to the court. “No one ever said bribery to him.”
According to court documents, one of Singer’s calls with Abdelaziz informed him that the fake athletic profile created for his daughter was so well made that he wanted to use it for other parents he was talking to as well.
It would be great for, “anybody who isn’t a real basketball player that’s a female,” Singer said.
“I love it,” Abdelaziz responded on the recorded phone call.
Other schools and universities involved include Yale, Stanford, Harvard, and UCLA.