Michelle Janavs, the heiress to the Hot Pockets throne, has been sentenced to 5 months in prison after admitting to cheating and bribing to get her daughters into college as part of the nationwide college admissions scandal. Janavs, whose father and uncle invented Hot Pockets before selling their company, Chef America, to Nestle in 2002 for more than $2 billion, is one of nearly two dozen parents who have admitted to scamming their children’s way into college. These affluent families have confessed to paying people to cheat on entrance exams for their kids and/or pretend their kids were star athletes for sports they didn’t play. Janavs herself took responsibility for paying Rick Singer, the man at the centre of the scheme, $100,000 to have a proctor correct her daughters’ ACT exam answers. She also coughed up $200,000 in order for her daughter to be falsely recruited as a beach volleyball star at the University of Southern California. However, prosecutors say that she was arrested before her daughter was formally admitted.
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“I am so very sorry that I tried to create an unfair advantage for my children,” Janavs told U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton, who claimed that Janavs’ actions damaged “the entire system of higher education in this country.” The heiress’ lawyers tried to paint her as a dedicated mother and philanthropist in court documents, arguing that these actions were out of character for her due to her life’s dedication to volunteer work and charities to help underprivileged children. These documents claim that Janavs merely fell for Singer’s “manipulative sales tactics” as a result of her love for her children and the stress of getting them into college. “She is a truly good human being. She did an extremely wrong thing here,” her lawyer, Thomas H. Bienert, Jr. told the Judge Gorton. However, assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney believed that Janavs showed a “flagrant disrespect for right and wrong and an attitude that she is untouchable,” and asked the judge that she receive up to 21 months behind bars. “She believed she and her children were deserving of an illicit edge over other students and no one could stop her,” said Kearney.
Other parents involved in the scandal who have pleaded guilty include actress Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced to two weeks in prison for paying $15,000 to have a proctor correct her daughter’s SAT answers. However, other parents, like actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who have been accused of paying $500,000 to get their daughters into USC, are fighting the charges.