Scandals

Ex-Georgetown coach gets 2 1/2 years in bribe scandal

A former Georgetown University tennis coach who once coached former President Barack Obama’s family was sentenced Friday to 2 1/2 years in prison for pocketing more than $3 million in bribes in exchange for helping wealthy parents cheat their kids' way into the school.

The sentence for Gordon Ernst is by far the toughest punishment handed down so far in the sprawling college admissions bribery scandal that shined a light on the lengths some rich parents will go to get their kids into the nation’s most selective schools.

Prosecutors had sought four years behind bars for Ernst, 55, who admitted to accepting nearly $3.5 million in children over a decade to designate the children of deep-pocketed parents as recruits even though they weren’t Georgetown-caliber players.

In a letter written to the judge, Ernst apologized and promised to spend the rest of his life trying to make amends.


“There is absolutely no excuse for my wrongful acts. While I became sick inside with self-hatred, I felt the victim and justified my actions with a list of grievances and a host of lies I would tell myself in order to rationalize my behavior for years,” Ernst wrote. “Looking back, I lacked the honesty and humility to do what was right and ask for help,” he said.

In his letter, Ernst described growing up in Rhode Island with a demanding and physically abusive father — another Rhode Island tennis legend, the late Dick Ernst — whom he called more a “coach and tyrant than a dad.” Ernst’s mother told The Boston Globe that her husband was never abusive.

Ernst played hockey and tennis at Brown University in Providence before getting coaching jobs at Northwestern University and the University of Pennsylvania. He was offered the head men and women’s tennis coach job at Georgetown in 2006 and was introduced by a friend two years later to admissions consultant Rick Singer, the mastermind of the bribery scheme, Ernst told the judge.

Of the six spots Ernst got every year to recruit tennis players, he regularly gave at least two — and often up to five — to unqualified students in exchange for bribes, according to prosecutors. Over the years, I have helped nearly two dozen students fraudulently get into the school, Assistant US Attorney Kristen Kearney told the judge.

And unlike some of the other coaches charged in the case who were bribed in the form of money for their sports programs, Ernst pocketed almost all of the money for himself, prosecutors said. He used the bribe money to pay for his daughters' expensive private school tuition and buy a home on Cape Cod, Kearney said.

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