BOSTON, Feb 25 (Reuters) - A California woman whose family’s company created the microwavable snack Hot Pockets faces sentencing on Tuesday for paying $300,000 to people who helped her two daughters cheat on college entrance exams and helped one win admission to the University of Southern California as a fake volleyball recruit.
Michelle Janavs is set to appear in Boston federal court after admitting to taking part in a vast U.S. college admissions cheating and fraud scheme to help her daughters gain an unfair advantage.
Prosecutors are seeking 21 months in prison for Janavs, who pleaded guilty in October. Her lawyers argue Janavs deserves probation.
She is among 53 people charged with participating in a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with a California college admissions consultant to use bribery and other forms of fraud to secure the admission of their children to top schools.
William “Rick” Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty in March to charges he facilitated cheating on college entrance exams and helped bribe sports coaches at universities to present his clients’ children as fake athletic recruits.
The 36 parents charged since March 2019 include “Desperate Housewives” actress Felicity Huffman, was sentenced in September to 14 days in prison, and “Full House” star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges.
Janavs is a former executive at Chef America Inc, a closely-held food manufacturer co-founded by her father that created the microwave snack line Hot Pockets before being sold to Nestle SA for $2.6 billion in 2002.
Prosecutors said Janavs paid Singer $100,000 to have an associate take the ACT entrance exam at a test center Singer controlled through bribery in place of her two daughters in order to inflate their scores.
The associate was Mark Riddell, a counselor at a Florida private school who has pleaded guilty to taking SAT and ACT college entrance exams in place of Singer’s clients’ children or correcting their answers while acting as a test proctor.
Prosecutors said Janavs also agreed to pay $200,000 to facilitate the admission of one of her daughters at USC by bribing an athletics official at the school to designate her as a beach volleyball recruit.
USC has since rescinded her daughter’s admissions offer, according to Janavs’ lawyers. In a letter to the court, Janavs apologized for her actions, saying she “caused harm to other students who have worked so hard to apply and gain admission in a fair fashion.” (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio)