An heiress to the Hot Pockets microwavable snack fortune who agreed to pay $300,000 to cheat the college admissions process for her daughters in a nationwide bribery scheme was sentenced Tuesday to five months in prison.
Michelle Janavs, whose family developed Hot Pockets before selling their company, was sentenced in Boston federal court for her role in the scandal that has embroiled elite universities across the country.
"I am so very sorry that I tried to create an unfair advantage for my children," she told the judge.
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U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel Gorton said prior to sentencing that he was inclined to sentence Janavs for "approaching one year," but her community outreach and volunteering warranted a reduction. She was ordered to report to prison on March 7.
Janavs admitted to paying the consultant at the center of the scheme, Rick Singer, $100,000 to have a proctor correct her daughters' ACT exam answers. She also agreed to pay $200,000 to have one of her daughters labeled as a fake beach volleyball recruit at the University of Southern California but she was arrested before the girl was formally admitted, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors had asked for 21 months in prison, calling her one of the “most culpable parents” charged in the case. They noted in court documents that she engaged in the scheme multiple times and waited to accept responsibility until months after she was arrested.
"She believed she and her children were deserving of an illicit edge over other students and no one could stop her," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney said.
Unlike other parents who have been sentenced so far, Janavs was also hit with an additional charge of money laundering conspiracy, which prosecutors tacked on for parents who didn't quickly plead guilty.
Janavs' lawyers portrayed her in court documents as a dedicated mother and philanthropist who fell for Singer's “manipulative sales tactics'' because of the love for her children and stress caused by the hyper-competitive college admissions process. Janavs' lawyers say she has already been punished enough and are urging the judge not to send her to prison.
“She is a truly good human being. She did an extremely wrong thing here," defense attorney Thomas H. Bienert Jr. told the judge.
Her family's company, Chef America, was sold to Nestle in 2002 for more than $2 billion.
Janavs is among nearly two dozen prominent parents who have pleaded guilty in the case. Others include “Desperate Housewives'' star Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced to two weeks in prison for paying $15,000 to have a proctor correct her daughter's SAT answers.
Those fighting the charges include “Full House'' actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying $500,000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California.