Admissions scandal: Prosecutors seek longest prison sentences yet for four California parents
Calling them “far and away the most culpable” of the parents who have admitted their guilt in the college admissions scandal, federal prosecutors recommended Tuesday that a judge sentence four parents to prison terms ranging from 18 to 26 months, heavier penalties than any handed down in the case so far.
The four parents — Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of Pimco; Michelle Janavs, heiress to a frozen foods fortune; Manuel Henriquez, a Bay Area venture capitalist, and his wife, Elizabeth — will be sentenced in federal court in Boston in the next two months.
Beneath the threat of new charges, the four admitted late last year that they rigged their children’s college entrance exams, misrepresented them as top-notch athletes and, in the process, conspired with William “Rick” Singer, the Newport Beach consultant at the center of the scandal, to commit fraud and money laundering.
Despite positions of wealth and influence that conferred on them and their children “extreme, almost unfathomable privilege,” prosecutors wrote in a memo, the four conspired with Singer 14 times over 11 years, to the benefit of nine children and at a cost of $1.6 million, collectively.
“They only stopped because they either ran out of children,” wrote Justin D. O’Connell, an assistant U. S. attorney, “or ran out of time before they got caught.”
Unlike the 13 parents who were previously sentenced for fraud, Hodge, Janavs and the Henriquezes pleaded guilty to two felonies and only “after they had a chance to review the overwhelming evidence of their guilt,” O’Connell said in the memo.
Fifteen parents — a group that includes Lori Loughlin and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli — have maintained their innocence. Their cases are inching toward trial, the first of which could begin in October.
Prosecutors are seeking heavier sentences for Hodge, Janavs and the Henriquezes than those proposed by the court’s probation department, arguing the four committed crimes repeatedly, over an extended period of time and with their children’s involvement; that some abused positions of power and trust; and that some deducted from their tax bills the bribes that secured their children’s illegal advantages.
If U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton follows their recommendations, or even approaches them, the four parents would face more time in prison than any sentenced in the scandal so far. Twelve were given terms ranging from 14 days, for actress Felicity Huffman, to six months, for Toby Macfarlane, a Del Mar insurance executive. One was spared incarceration altogether.
Hodge, who stepped down from the helm of Newport Beach-based Pimco in 2016, will be sentenced Friday. He paid bribes totaling $850,000 to get four children into Georgetown and USC, and tried — unsuccessfully — to get a fifth child into Loyola Marymount University, O’Connell wrote.
Prosecutors asked Gorton to commit Hodge to prison for two years. Despite holding positions that seemingly demanded integrity — chief of one of the world’s largest bond managers, trustee of his children’s school — he “was living a secret double life,” O’Connell wrote, “using bribery and fraud to fuel a mirage of success and accomplishment.”
Hodge’s lawyers asked Gorton to sentence him at the low end of the guideline range, with the possibility of splitting it between prison and home detention. They said Hodge is less culpable than Devin Sloane and Stephen Semprevivo, two fathers who each pleaded guilty to misrepresenting a single child as a recruited athlete and were sentenced to four months in prison.
While Hodge does not have a cooperation agreement, his lawyers said that he has met with the government and that “for close to four hours, Doug answered every question in a room filled with prosecutors.”
“Although Doug looked away from the aspects of Singer’s work that made him feel uncomfortable at the time, he now sees his actions in a stark light,” they wrote. “He committed fraud, plain and simple.”
In a letter to the court, Hodge apologized to the students who lost opportunities to the fraud he perpetrated. He also apologized to their parents who, like him, wanted to see their children succeed but who, unlike him, didn’t break the law to make it happen. He said he did not set out to bribe, cheat or deceive anyone, but as the contours of Singer’s scheme became clear, “with its quid pro quo payments and deceptions,” he lacked the integrity to step back.
Janavs, whose family created the microwavable Hot Pockets snack and endowed the business school at UC Irvine, has admitted paying $100,000 to fix ACT college entrance exams for her two daughters. Mark Riddell, Singer’s Harvard-educated accomplice, corrected the girls’ answers after they took the exams at a private West Hollywood school, whose administrator, Igor Dvorskiy, has said he permitted the cheating in exchange for bribes. Both Riddell and Dvorskiy have pleaded guilty and are cooperating with investigators.
Meanwhile, Janavs was working with Singer to ensure that one of her daughters was admitted to USC as a beach volleyball recruit. She paid $50,000 to a university account controlled by Donna Heinel, prosecutors say. Heinel has pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit racketeering, fraud and bribery. Janavs was arrested before she could pay the deal’s $150,000 balance. When Gorton sentences her Feb. 25, prosecutors recommend he hand down a 21-month sentence.
Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez have admitted conspiring with Singer five times to rig their two daughters’ college entrance exams, at a cost of $50,000 — a rate lower than what other parents paid, O’Connell wrote, because Manuel Henriquez, an influential alumnus at Northeastern University, advocated for the admission of the child of another Singer client.
The couple paid Singer $400,000 to have Georgetown coach Gordon Ernst recruit their older daughter to his tennis program, O’Connell wrote. Despite Manuel Henriquez’s guilty plea, he has denied involvement in the recruitment scheme, O’Connell wrote. Prosecutors recommended a 26-month term for Elizabeth Henriquez when she is sentenced March 3, and an 18-month term for her husband when he is sentenced March 5.
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