Varsity Blues: Four more plead guilty to college cheating scandal

Four parents, including three former CEOs, pleaded guilty on Monday to charges in connection to a sweeping college cheating scandal, while a fifth person also announced on Monday his plans to do so, officials said.

Ex-chiefs Michelle Janavs, a former exec at a California-based food manufacturer; Douglas Hodge, formerly of global investment firm Pacific Investment Management Co.; and Manuel Henriquez, former CEO for finance lender Hercules Capital Inc., and his wife, Elizabeth, copped to charges for allegedly bribing college officials to help their children get into elite schools, officials announced.

All four defendants appeared in court on Monday.

Meanwhile, Martin Fox, the former head of a private, elite tennis academy in Texas, also revealed he, too, would plead guilty for his involvement in the scheme. Though he’s not one of the parents charged, Fox facilitated the cheating and brokered bribes, officials alleged.

The defendants were some of the more than 50 people charged in connection to the federal investigation, dubbed “Varsity Blues.” Fifteen people previously admitted guilt in plea deals.

But who are the five people and what is each accused of?

Douglas Hodge

Douglas Hodge, former chief executive office of Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO), center, exits federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. Photographer: Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The 61-year-old Laguna Beach, California man appeared at a federal courthouse in Boston on Monday morning, where he pleaded guilty to charges in connection to allegations he bribed his children’s way into the University of Southern California, officials said.

Hodge, the former CEO of PIMCO allegedly paid roughly $525,000 to successfully get his daughter and son into USC as purported soccer and football players, respectively. He had also tried to get his other child admitted into Loyola Marymount University, but was ultimately unable to do so, court papers show.

“HODGE’s daughter’s application to USC, submitted on or about December 16, 2012, stated that she was a co-captain of a Japanese national soccer team, and an 'All American' midfielder on a prestigious club soccer team in the United States,” court records state.

She was formally accepted on March 26, 2013. When she went to school that fall, she did not join the soccer team.

But even before his daughter had gone off to school, in July 2013, Hodge was trying to make arrangements for his son.

“Need to start discussion about the next one,” he wrote to a cooperating witness, records show. “[My son] is at [high school] in New Hampshire and entering his junior year.”

The high school student was made out to be an All-American football player who was on the varsity team from his sophomore to senior years, court papers state. But he actually stopped playing the sport after the ninth grade.

He was accepted to USC on March 24, 2015.

"I have always prided myself on leading by example, and I am ashamed of the decisions I made," Hodge said Monday in a statement. "I acted out of love for my children, but I know that this explanation for my actions is not an excuse."

His sentencing is scheduled for the afternoon of Jan. 22, 2020, officials said.

Michelle Janavs

Michelle Janavs, a former executive at Chef America Inc., exits federal court in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Friday, March 29, 2019. Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Newport Coast, California woman and former head of Chef America, Inc. – which invented the Hot Pocket –  appeared in federal court at 2:30 p.m. Monday, where she pleaded guilty in connection to the scandal.

From 2017 to 2019, she Janavs paid more than $400,000 to get her son admitted to Georgetown University as a purported tennis player, and also coughed up $100,000 to have her two daughters’ entrance exam scores fixed, court papers show.

During the course of the process, Janavs agreed to be recorded during the phone conversations with officials arranging the cheating – who were later identified as witnesses in the investigation, prosecutors wrote. As a result, investigators scoured through and provided transcripts of the calls.

In one phone call, she sought advice about how to go about the test-fixing scheme without her daughter finding out.

She’s smart, she’s going to figure this out. Yeah, she’s going to say to me-- she already thinks I’m up to, like, no good.

- Varsity Blues court papers

Janavs' sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 25, 2020.

Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Manuel, right, and Elizabeth Henriquez leave the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Atherton, California couple allegedly paid approximately $450,000 in bribes to help their daughter get into Georgetown University as a purported tennis player, according to the Department of Justice. The Henriquezes also allegedly paid to have their younger daughter’s college entrance exam scores fixed.

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Manuel, the founder and former CEO for finance lender Hercules Capital Inc., pleaded guilty shortly after 2 p.m. Monday, while Elizabeth did so around 4 p.m.

In one instance, during a phone call that Elizabeth knew was being recorded, a “cooperating witness” in the case told Elizabeth his foundation was being audited by the IRS.

“Well, that sucks,” Elizabeth responded.


When told that the IRS was asking about the large amounts of money coming in from them, Elizabeth responded: “For all the good deeds that you do.”

Manuel stepped down from his post at Hercules after he was charged, Forbes reported. He is due in court for his sentencing on March 5, 2020.

Martin Fox

Martin Fox, president of a private tennis academy in Houston facing charges in a nationwide college admissions cheating scheme, leaves the federal courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RC173BED5F60

The 62-year-old Houston resident and president of a prominent area tennis club will cop to a count of conspiracy to commit racketeering, officials said in a Monday press release.


Fox brokered bribes to help wealthy parents cheat on their children's college entrance exams at a Houston testing site. He's also accused of arranging bribes to get two students admitted to the University of San Diego as recruited athletes, and one student to the University of Texas. He must return the $245,000 he received through the scheme, according to his plea deal.

Martin first pleaded not guilty in March before changing his plea, officials said. As part of the plea deal, he will also cooperate with the government’s investigation, officials said. In return, the prosecutors are requesting he be sentenced to “incarceration at the low end of the Guidelines sentencing range,” as well as a year of supervised release and an unspecified fine, according to the Department of Justice website. He faces a maximum of 20 years behind bars if convicted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.