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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Massachusetts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Parent Sentenced in College Admissions Case

Defendant paid bribes for two of her children to gain admission to college

BOSTON – A California woman was sentenced today in federal court in Boston for paying $300,000 to participate the college entrance exam cheating scheme and athletic recruitment scheme for her children.

Michelle Janavs, 49, of Newport Coast, Calif., was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton to five months in prison, two years of supervised release, and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.

The government recommended a sentence of 21 months in prison, three years of supervised release, 250 hours of community service and a fine of $175,000. In October 2019, Janavs pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Beginning in 2017, Janavs conspired with Rick Singer and others to secure her children’s admission to selective colleges and universities through bribery and fraud.

On Oct. 28, 2017, Janavs’s older daughter took the ACT exam at a test center in West Hollywood that Singer “controlled” through a corrupt test administrator, Igor Dvorskiy. Singer’s corrupt “proctor,” Mark Riddell, reviewed and corrected the daughter’s answers. In November 2017, Janavs sent a $50,000 check to Singer’s sham charitable organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (KWF), to pay for the fraud. Singer, in turn, passed a portion of the money to Riddell and Dvorskiy. 

In February 2019, Janavs’s younger daughter took the ACT at the West Hollywood Test Center, and Riddell corrected her answers. Later that month, Janavs wired $25,000 to KWF and mailed a $25,000 check to KWF. Singer, in turn, passed bribes to Riddell and Dvorskiy.

Riddell and Dvorskiy have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

Beginning in 2018, Janavs agreed with Singer to pay $200,000 to facilitate her older daughter’s admission to the University of Southern California (USC) as a purported volleyball recruit. In August 2018, Janavs emailed Singer photos of her daughter playing volleyball so that Singer could create a fake athletic “profile.” In October 2018, a USC athletics administrator, Donna Heinel, secured approval to admit Janavs’s daughter from the USC subcommittee for athletic admissions based on the falsified athletic credentials. Later that month, Janavs mailed Heinel a $50,000 check drawn from her family’s charitable foundation account and made payable to USC Women’s Volleyball, the account designated by Heinel. Janavs was arrested before her older daughter received her formal admission to USC and, accordingly, did not pay the remaining $150,000 of the initially agreed upon amount.

Case information, including the status of each defendant, charging documents and plea agreements are available here: https://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/investigations-college-admissions-and-testing-bribery-scheme.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Kristina O’Connell, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations in Boston, made the announcement today. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Eric S. Rosen, Justin D. O’Connell, Leslie A. Wright and Kristen A. Kearney of Lelling’s Securities and Financial Fraud Unit are prosecuting the cases.

The details contained in the court documents are allegations and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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Updated February 25, 2020