The sweeping indictment accuses coaches, teachers, and educational professionals of accepting millions of dollars in bribes to guarantee college admissions for children of wealthy parents. Gordon Ernst is one of several athletic coaches named in the indictment. Ernst served as head men’s and women’s tennis coach at Georgetown University, before being hired by URI last year.
The indictment accuses Ernst of accepting $2.7 million in bribes from a private college admissions counselor, in return for designating students as recruits for the tennis team, ensuring their admission, despite the fact that three of those students did not play competitive tennis.
URI has placed Ernst on leave while they investigate, but said in a statement that Ernst has not recruited any new players during his time in Rhode Island.
The fast-moving college admissions scandal moved from bombshell indictments to guilty pleas in a matter of hours, yet the full fallout from the federal case against the rich and famous could take months or more to unfold.
Big names such as actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin headline the list of some 50 people charged in documents released Tuesday that describe a scheme to cheat the admissions process at eight sought-after schools. The parents bribed college coaches and other insiders to get their children into selective schools, authorities said.
At the center of the scheme was admissions consultant William "Rick" Singer, founder of the Edge College & Career Network of Newport Beach, California, authorities said. Singer pleaded guilty and his lawyer, Donald Heller, said his client intends to cooperate fully with prosecutors and is "remorseful and contrite and wants to move on with his life."
Prosecutors said that parents paid Singer big money from 2011 up until just last month to bribe coaches and administrators to falsely make their children look like star athletes to boost their chances of getting accepted. The consultant also hired ringers to take college entrance exams for students, and paid off insiders at testing centers to correct students' answers.
Some parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and some as much as $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.
"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said.
At least nine athletic coaches and 33 parents were charged. Dozens, including Huffman, the Emmy-winning star of ABC's "Desperate Housewives," were arrested by midday Tuesday. Huffman posted a $250,000 bond after an appearance in federal court in Los Angeles. Her husband, actor William H. Macy, has not been charged, though an FBI agent stated in an affidavit that he was in the room when Huffman first heard the pitch from a scam insider.
It was unclear when the "Full House" star Loughlin would turn herself in. Loughlin's husband, fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, was released in Los Angeles after posting a $1 million bond.
The coaches worked at schools such as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles.
Stanford's sailing coach John Vandemoer pleaded guilty Tuesday in Boston. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty before the documents went public and helped build the case against others.
No students were charged, with authorities saying that in many cases the teenagers were unaware of what was going on. Several of the colleges involved made no mention of taking any action against the students.
Several defendants, including Huffman, were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.
Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The IRS is also investigating, since some parents allegedly disguised the bribes as charitable donations.
The colleges themselves are not targets, the prosecutor said. A number of the institutions moved quickly to fire or suspend the coaches and distance their name from the scandal, portraying themselves as victims. Stanford fired the sailing coach, and USC dropped its water polo coach and an athletic administrator. UCLA suspended its soccer coach, and Wake Forest did the same with its volleyball coach.