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Hot Pockets heiress headed to prison in college admissions scandal

Michelle Janavs, 48, of Newport Coast, Calif., leaving federal court in Boston last year.
Michelle Janavs, 48, of Newport Coast, Calif., leaving federal court in Boston last year.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file

Hot Pockets heiress Michelle Janavs was sentenced Tuesday in federal court in Boston to five months in prison after she acknowledged paying $300,000 to have two daughters admitted to the University of Southern California in the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal.

Janavs, 48, of Newport Coast, Calif., was also sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine, the US attorney’s office for Massachusetts said in a statement.

According to prosecutors, Janavs paid the scam’s admitted ringleader, William “Rick” Singer, $100,000 to ensure her daughters received high scores on the ACT exam, and agreed to pay $200,000 to have one daughter falsely classified as a volleyball recruit.

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However, prosecutors said, Janavs was arrested before that daughter was formally accepted at USC, so $150,000 of the previously agreed-upon bribe money wasn’t paid. Court papers show USC rescinded the daughter’s conditional acceptance in March 2019.

Janavs, whose family built the Hot Pockets microwavable munchies empire before selling it, pleaded guilty in October to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud, as well as one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

She showed no emotion as US District Judge Nathaniel Gorton delivered his sentence after she apologized for abandoning her moral compass and hurting her family and friends.

“I am so very sorry that I tried to create an unfair advantage for my children,” she said.

Gorton told Janavs that prison time was needed to deter others who might have the gall to use their wealth to break the law and dismissed her argument that her actions were motivated by a love for her children.

The “vast majority of parents do not brazenly try to push their kids in the side door” of universities through bribery, Gorton said. “They don’t love their children any less than you do. They just play by the rules of common decency and fair play.”

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Prosecutors had requested that Janavs serve 21 months behind bars, pay a $175,000 fine, and perform 250 hours of community service. In court papers, they described Janavs as “an heir to a massive fortune” who during one call with Singer expressed a desire to conceal the testing scheme from her younger daughter.

Janavs is among the more than 50 defendants charged in connection with the scheme, in which wealthy parents allegedly cut fat checks to Singer to get their children falsely classified as athletic recruits at selective schools, effectively paving their way to admission, or to facilitate cheating on their kids’ SAT and ACT exams when the scores needed a little buffing.

In papers submitted to the court last week, Janavs’s lawyers said incarceration for their client wasn’t necessary to punish her or to promote respect for the law, citing her extensive charitable work, among other things.

“The past year has shaken Michelle to her core and caused her to reflect on the terrible decisions she made,” her lawyers wrote. “She has taken full and complete responsibility for her conduct” and “will spend the rest of her life trying to make amends.”

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.