U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton said he would have given Janavs close to a year in prison but cited her history of good works as a mitigating factor. She has volunteered for decades.
Janavs, 49, of Newport Coast, Calif., must pay $250,000 in fines and was sentenced to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
She is the 15th parent to be sentenced in the scandal that exposed weaknesses in the opaque world of elite college admissions and standardized testing. More than 50 people have been charged in connection with a scheme led by admission consultant William “Rick” Singer, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering and other crimes.
Earlier this month, Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of Pacific Investment Management Co., known as Pimco, was sentenced to nine months in prison for conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering. His sentence is the most serious penalty to date.
Federal prosecutors described Janavs as the heir to a massive fortune and said she paid Singer $100,000 to ensure her two daughters received high scores on ACT exams.
Prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum that Janavs agreed to pay $200,000 more to get one of her daughters admitted to the University of Southern California as a purported beach volleyball recruit. She played volleyball on her high school team, according to court documents but did not have the ability to play college sports at the highest level, and she played indoor, not beach, volleyball.
In 2017, prosecutors said, Janavs paid Singer to cheat on the ACT test in a multipronged scheme, first getting extra time for her daughter because of a purported learning disability, then moving the test to a center that Singer controlled. Someone posing as a proctor for the exam corrected the teen’s answers after she finished taking the test.
Prosecutors said Janavs texted to Singer in 2019 the score she wanted her younger daughter to receive on the ACT.
Prosecutors had recommended 21 months in prison for Janavs.
Janavs’s attorneys wrote in court documents that her family had already paid a steep price for her cheating — including her daughters, who were handcuffed at gunpoint in the FBI raid when Janavs was arrested last spring, and banned from their private high school. USC rescinded the older daughter’s conditional acceptance and barred her from applying again; she enrolled at a community college, and her younger sister enrolled at a public high school.
“Michelle’s path from well-respected mother and philanthropist to scorned felon is on display for everyone to see,” Janavs’s attorneys wrote in the sentencing memorandum. “Her conduct has brought public shame on her and her family and harmed, rather than helped, her children. The fallout from Michelle’s actions stand as a beacon to others that illegal shortcuts are a recipe for disaster, regardless of the punishment the court imposes on Michelle.”
At the hearing, Janavs’s attorneys spent more than half an hour talking about the good works she has done during the past 30 years in a life dedicated to supporting education, the arts and combating hunger. She paid private high school tuition for a woman now studying at the University of California at Irvine in hopes of becoming a doctor. She started a program to get children to volunteer to address hunger among other children. She donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the private school her daughters attended.
As her attorney began describing her lifetime of commitment to public service, Janavs began to sob quietly. A court clerk handed her a box of tissue, and her eyes were red as she left the hearing.
On the way out of the courthouse, Janavs’s attorney, John Littrell, said his client will not allow her life to be defined by this one act. Instead, he said, she will recommit herself to public service.
“She has dedicated decades of her life to helping exactly the type of kids who were harmed in this case,” Littrell said, to lifting children out of poverty and giving them “the same type of opportunities that her own kids had.”
Gorton, the judge, told Janavs that he found her claim that she acted out of love for her daughters disingenuous.
“The vast majority of parents truly love their children and want them to succeed in getting into the college of their choice,” he said in handing down her sentence. “They don’t try to push their children in the side door by bribing college officials. …
“They don’t love their children any less than you do. They just play by the rules of common decency and fair play.”
Nick Anderson contributed to this report.