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Ex-Georgetown tennis coach in alleged college bribery scam seeks greater freedom of travel

The campus of Georgetown University earlier this month.
The campus of Georgetown University earlier this month.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Former Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst wants permission to travel throughout the country to look for work and care for elderly relatives while his case in the college admissions cheating scandal is pending.

Lawyers for Ernst, a 52-year-old Cranston, R.I., native with homes in Chevy Chase, Md., and Falmouth, made the request Thursday in a brief motion in US District Court in Boston, where the veteran coach faces a racketeering conspiracy charge in connection with the high-profile case.

While coaching at Georgetown over a period of several years, Ernst allegedly collected bribes totaling $2.7 million in exchange for designating “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,” court records show.

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He’s free on $200,000 unsecured bond and scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court in Boston on Monday, according to legal filings.

On Thursday, Ernst’s lawyers asserted that his current pretrial release conditions, which restrict his travel to Maryland and Massachusetts for court appearances, lawyer meetings, and pretrial supervision, are tighter than conditions for the other 49 defendants in the sprawling case.

And, the motion said, Ernst has surrendered his passport and is not a flight risk. He has known about the probe since at least December 2017, according to the motion.

“Mr. Ernst has a legitimate need to travel throughout the continental United States,” the filing said, noting that he plans to reside at his Cape Cod home when he’s required to appear in federal court in Boston. “Mr. Ernst must also frequently travel to Rhode Island to care for his elderly mother and to Florida to care for his elderly mother-in-law, as both women live alone.”

In addition, the motion said, Ernst “has been actively seeking employment since being placed on leave by his current employer [University of Rhode Island]. Mr. Ernst works as a tennis professional and anticipates finding employment in California or Florida due to the warmer climates in those states.”

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Prosecutors hadn’t responded to the motion as of Friday evening.

Ernst hails from Rhode Island, according to a 2006 press release from Georgetown announcing his appointment as coach.

“He was the only athlete to win four straight Rhode Island High School State Tennis Championships in both singles and doubles and in 1985 the Cranston, Rhode Island native was the team captain of the United States Junior Davis Cup Team Camp,” the release said. “In 2000, Ernst was inducted into the Cranston, Rhode Island Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2003 he was inducted into the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Hall of Fame.”

The 2006 release also noted that Ernst had served since 2002 as executive director of Vineyard Youth Tennis on Martha’s Vineyard.

Ernst served previously as a tennis instructor to former first lady Michelle Obama, according to a 2014 story in the New York Times, which quoted Ernst as saying that Obama had “a big backhand.”

Georgetown has said that Ernst was no longer coaching there as of December 2017, “following an internal investigation that found he had violated University rules concerning admissions.” He was hired by URI in August 2018, but the school confirmed earlier this month that he had been placed on leave because of the probe.

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Ernst is one of 50 defendants charged in the scheme in which dozens of wealthy parents, including Hollywood stars and captains of industry, allegedly cut fat checks to have their children falsely certified as athletic recruits at prestigious schools, paving the way for their acceptance.

Some parents also allegedly ponied up cash to facilitate cheating on their children’s SAT and ACT exams.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when Gordon Ernst last coached at Georgetown. It was December 2017.


Danny McDonald of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.