College admissions scandal parents denied home confinement option

The government argued that Douglas Hodge and Michelle Janavs do not qualify for a commuted sentence in response to the defendants’ motion requesting home confinement in lieu of prison. (Daily Trojan file photo)

Two USC parents in the college admissions case who requested that their prison sentences be converted to home confinement due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus were denied in court Thursday after the court found they did not meet requirements for the modification.

Douglas Hodge and Michelle Janavs submitted motions last week alleging that their sentences for their roles in the Operation Varsity Blues scandal would pose a threat to their health in light of the increased contagion reported in federal prisons during the coronavirus pandemic. Janavs cited preexisting health conditions that would further increase the severity of her symptoms should she contract the virus. She quoted figures from the Bureau of Prisons showing increasing numbers of coronavirus cases in federal prisons, while Hodge stated that his age, 62 years, elevated his vulnerability to the virus.

In the order filed Thursday, the court acknowledged the defendants’ concerns of endangerment but stated that they had not yet exhausted all other means of modifying their sentences. Hodge and Janavs would not meet conditions for consideration of a sentence reduction regardless, the government argued in an opposition entered Tuesday, citing Janavs’ presentence physicals indicating good physical health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about at-risk populations.

“Their motions should be denied for the separate reason that they cannot establish ‘extraordinary and compelling circumstances’ that would justify reduced sentences,” the opposition read. “BOP has instituted substantial policies and procedures to manage the pandemic and prevent the spread of infection.”

The opposition also noted that no staff or prisoners at either of the facilities to which Hodge and Janavs were assigned have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The judge declined the parents’ requests for home confinement on grounds of failure to meet administrative requirements, ruling instead to postpone their self-surrender dates to June 30 from their previous reporting deadlines of May 4 and 7, respectively. 

According to the government’s opposition, only individuals already in federal custody may appeal to commute a prison sentence to home confinement, a condition that would preclude both Hodge and Janavs from submitting their requests. 

“Janavs’s contention that she has satisfied the exhaustion requirements ignores the plain language of the statute, which does not contemplate a motion by an individual who is not yet in BOP custody,” the document read. “While Janavs may have sent a letter to a warden at a BOP facility, until she actually reports to that facility and is taken into custody, that warden is not ‘the warden of the defendant’s facility.’”

Hodge was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined $750,000 in February for paying for four of his children’s college admissions — including two to USC — as false athletic recruits and for attempting to fraudulently secure his fifth child’s acceptance to Loyola Marymount University in the same manner. His sentence is the heaviest to date in the college admissions scandal.

Janavs was sentenced in February to five months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of $250,000 after pleading guilty in October to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for arranging for her daughter’s false recruitment to USC’s beach volleyball team and rigging her two daughters’ SAT scores. 

Hodge and Janavs are among 19 parents in the admissions case with ties to USC, six of whom pleaded guilty and proceeded with sentencing. The remaining 11 parents connected to the University have opted to contest charges and will be tried in Boston federal court beginning in October.