Newport mom in college admissions scandal seeks home confinement to avoid coronavirus in prison


A Newport Beach woman set to serve her sentence for her role in the college admissions bribery scandal has petitioned to serve her confinement at home in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has also taken root inside federal prisons.

Michelle Janavs, 49, was sentenced in February to five months in prison for paying $100,000 to fix her daughters’ college entrance exams and agreeing to pay twice that amount to get one girl into USC as a bogus beach volleyball player. She pleaded guilty in October to conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering, admitting she paid scheme mastermind William “Rick” Singer to rig her daughters’ college admissions.

But Janavs, known for being an heiress to the Hot Pockets frozen food fortune, had not yet started serving her term — and because she is a nonviolent, first-time offender with an underlying health condition that could make her susceptible to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, she shouldn’t report at all, her lawyers argued in a court filing Wednesday.


“In sum, if Ms. Janavs were to surrender to [Bureau of Prisons] custody, she is highly likely to become infected with COVID-19. And because of her underlying health condition, she faces a much higher risk than others of serious complications, hospitalization, or death from the virus,” her lawyers wrote. “By contrast, home incarceration in lieu of BOP custody for the same period would impose sufficient punishment without the corresponding risk of disease and death.”

The exact nature of Janavs’ health issues was redacted.

The kind of strict physical distancing public health officials and local governments advise to tamp down the virus’ spread is not possible in the confines of group settings like prison, and the U.S. attorney general has instructed the Bureau of Prisons to consider transferring vulnerable, nonviolent offenders to home confinement.

“Indeed, if Ms. Janavs were in custody now, it is likely that she would be processed for release to home confinement,” her lawyers wrote.

As of Wednesday, no cases of COVID-19 were reported at FPC Bryan, the minimum-security Texas prison camp where she’s supposed to serve, according to online records. More than 560 inmates and 340 Bureau of Prisons staff nationwide have tested positive for the virus, the agency says. Twenty four inmates have died.

Janavs’ attorney reached out last month to the warden where Janavs is set to begin her bid in May to seek conversion of her sentence to home confinement, according to court documents. A lawyer for the prison system said it would not move for a modification because Janavs was not yet in custody, although it would not object to delaying her surrender date by 60 days.

Her lawyers, however, say that would not solve the problem, as health experts predict a second wave of the virus in the winter.

“She accepts the five-month sentence the court imposed and wishes to begin serving it now, but the conditions within the BOP make it unsafe to do so,” they said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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