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Hot Pockets heiress, former PIMCO chief want to serve prison terms in college admissions scandal case at home due to coronavirus

Michelle Janavs, the 49-year-old Hot Pockets heiress.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/file

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, two defendants who pleaded guilty to their roles in the college admissions cheating scandal have asked a federal judge in Boston to let them serve their prison terms at home.

Lawyers for Michelle Janavs, the 49-year-old Hot Pockets heiress and philanthropist, filed their request on her behalf Wednesday in US District Court in Boston.

The partially redacted motion to allow Janavs to serve her time at home in Newport Coast, Calif., said she has an underlying medical condition that would place her at an acute risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19 if she contracted it in custody.

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She’s currently slated to report to FPC Bryan, a minimum-security federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas, on May 7, legal filings show.

In a separate motion Thursday, lawyers for Douglas Hodge, the former head of the global investment management firm PIMCO who was sentenced in February to nine months in prison for his role in the scandal, requested that he either be detained at home or allowed to surrender to authorities on June 30, rather than May 4, as currently scheduled.

Attorneys for Hodge, 62, of Laguna Beach, Calif., argued in court documents that the rising number of COVID-19 infections and deaths and the nature of prison housing make it extremely difficult to keep Hodge safe behind bars. They said his age puts him a category that is at higher risk of becoming very sick with the virus and he “poses no danger to the public, nor is he likely to recidivate.”

Hodge pleaded guilty in US District Court in Boston in October to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services and wire fraud, as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering.

His lawyers wrote in their filing Thursday that prosecutors in his case oppose the proposed sentence modification but do not object to a 60-day continuance of his surrender date.

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“Against this backdrop, there is simply no reason to subject Mr. Hodge, in just under two weeks, to the potentially life-threatening conditions of a federal prison,” his attorneys wrote.

Prosecutors hadn’t filed a response in either case as of Thursday night, nor had Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton ruled on either request.

Janavs’s lawyers wrote that preventative measures such as social distancing, frequent hand washing, and cleaning and disinfecting regularly touched surfaces aren’t possible in lockup.

“People in custody are in near constant physical contact with other inmates and prison staff,” her attorneys wrote. “Showers are rarely private, multiple people share tiny and cramped living spaces, including exposed toilets and wash areas.”

The filing said public health officials have stated that inmates “are particularly vulnerable, and ‘realistically, the best — perhaps the only — way to mitigate the damage and reduce the death toll is to decrease the jail and prison population by releasing as many people as possible.’”

In addition, Janavs’s legal team said, US Attorney General William Barr has “already instructed [the Federal Bureau of Prisons] to consider transferring vulnerable, non-violent offenders like Ms. Janavs to home confinement.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons says on its website that as of Wednesday, there were 566 inmates and 342 BOP staff with confirmed positive test results for COVID-19 nationwide. Currently, the site says, 248 inmates and 52 staff have recovered. Twenty-four inmates have died, the site says.

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Janavs and Hodge were among more than 50 people charged in connection with the college scandal, in which wealthy parents cut large checks to admitted ringleader William “Rick” Singer to get their children falsely classified as athletic recruits at elite schools, or to facilitate cheating on the kids’ SAT and ACT exams.

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 was also sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.

Prosecutors said Janavs paid 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 at USC. However, prosecutors said, Janavs was arrested before that daughter was formally accepted, 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.

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

In legal filings prior to sentencing, Janavs’s lawyers had 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.”

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Separately, Gorton last week reduced the six-month sentence for Toby MacFarlane to time served and ordered his release from the federal Bureau of Prisons effective April 21 due to the COVID-19 concerns impacting federal and state prisons.

MacFarlane pleaded guilty last year and was given the six month sentence along with a $150,000 fine that he has since paid. MacFarlane, 57, of Del Mar, Calif., admitted to paying $450,000 in bribes to get his children classified as fake sports recruits at USC.

Gorton wrote that MacFarlane had to spend two weeks in 23-hour lockdown under the BOP’s COVID-19 quarantine rules for prisoners wrapping up their sentences.

“After he has completed his 14-day quarantine on April 21, 2020, Macfarlane will have served more than five months of his sentence,’’ Gorton wrote. “The Court will thereupon reduce his sentence to time served, on the condition that he immediately proceed to home detention [in California] with electronic monitoring through June 30, 2020.”

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.


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