It has now been more than three years since I reported in this post about the first pleas in the high-profile college fraud Varsity Blues case detailed in this press release from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, headlined “14 Defendants in College Admissions Scandal to Plead Guilty.” I covered a number of the early and celebrity sentencings closely, but there have been too many cases for me to keep track of them all. Helpfully, DOJ has assembled here all the cases charged and sentenced in the Varsity Blues investigation, and today comes this news of the longest prison term imposed on the roughly four dozen defendants sentenced in this high-profile scandal:
Gordon “Gordie” Ernst, a Rhode Island tennis legend, was sentenced Friday to 30 months in prison — the longest sentence yet for a defendant in the “Operation Varsity Blues” case.
Ernst, 55, previously pleaded guilty to multiple bribery charges after being swept up in the federal investigation into dubious college admission schemes.
Prosecutors for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts had argued that Ernst warranted a significantly harsher sentence than others charged in the case, because of his “raw greed” and the “breathtaking scale” of his offenses.
Ernst, in his appeal for leniency, portrayed himself as the product of a difficult upbringing in Cranston, in a family that sometimes struggled to make ends meet but seemed from the outside to be the pinnacle of athletic success. He alleged that he was routinely beaten by his father, Richard “Dick” Ernst, a legendary coach who died in 2016.
According to prosecutors, Ernst accepted nearly $3.5 million in bribes while working as tennis coach at Georgetown University, in exchange for identifying wealthy high-school students who would not have otherwise qualified for the team as promising tennis recruits. He collected at least $2 million more than any other coach or administrator charged in Operation Varsity Blues, according to the government’s sentencing memo….
Ernst said that since his arrest, he has worked part-time at Hertz cleaning cars — a significant departure from the days when he was brought into the White House to give tennis lessons to the Obama family. He still coaches tennis on a part-time basis, he said, and volunteered at COVID vaccination sites in Cape Cod.
Federal prosecutors had requested a sentence of four years in prison and two years of supervised release, plus the forfeiture of more than $3.4 million in proceeds. They noted that unlike parents charged in the scheme, Ernst “cannot claim to have acted out of a desire to help his own children gain admission to college.”…
Ernst’s attorneys argued that their client should not receive more than one year and a day in prison, given the much lighter sentences given to other defendants, and should not be ordered to pay restitution. In their sentencing memo, Ernst’s legal team described the coach as “a kid from Cranston, Rhode Island whose family at times depended on public assistance,” and “flew too close to the sun” when he found himself surrounded by power and wealth.