Third parent in 24 hours caves in college admissions scandal, agrees to plead guilty

Joey Garrison, USA TODAY

BOSTON — Three parents have agreed to plead guilty to charges in the nation's college admissions scheme in the last 24 hours, the largest collection of parents to cave to prosecutors in the blockbuster "Varsity Blues" since April. 

Manuel Henriquez, founder and CEO of the venture capital firm Hercules Capital, and Michelle Janavs, a former executive of the company that makes Hot Pockets, on Friday became the latest to agree to plead guilty in court Monday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston said.

The moves signal a major shift in the historic admissions case — and it could mean additional parents still fighting charges might also flip instead of going to trial next year.

Both defendants had pleaded not guilty to charges in April. 

Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez arrive at federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal.

Their decisions came after Douglas Hodge, former CEO of the management investment firm Pimco, also reversed course this week and agreed to plead guilty on Monday for paying more than $500,000 in bribes to get two of his kids into the University of Southern California as fake athletic recruits. His notice was filed with the court Thursday.

The three guilty pleas means more than half, 27 out of 52 people charged in the nation's college admissions case, will have pleaded guilty. That includes 18 out of 35 parents charged with crimes. 

More: Former Pimco CEO to plead guilty for $500,000 bribes in college admissions scandal

Henriquez's attorney, Walter Brown, declined to comment on Monday's plea hearing.

Henriquez, a resident of Atherton, California, and his wife Elizabeth Henriquez face mail and wire fraud and money laundering charges for allegedly paying bribes to the admissions scheme's mastermind, Rick Singer, to have someone on four separate occasions cheat on college instance exams for their two daughters to boost their scores.

Payments were each at least $25,000 for fixing answers on SAT and ACT tests, according to prosecutors. The transactions occurred between 2015 and 2018.

Elizabeth Henriquez is not scheduled to plead guilty with her husband. Her attorney Aaron Katz declined to comment. 

Prosecutors have also accused Henriquez of conspiring to bribe Gordon Ernst, the former head tennis coach at Georgetown University, with a $400,000 payment to designate their older daughter as a tennis recruit to get her into the school. 

Michelle Janavs, former executive of a food manufacturer, makes her way out of the courthouse after giving her plea in front of a judge for charges in the college admissions scandal at the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on March 29, 2019.

Janavs, of Newport Coast, California, faces the same fraud and money laundering charges for taking part in the test-cheating and recruitment schemes. She is an heiress of her family's food manufacturing company Chef America, which makes the microwave snack Hot Pockets. 

Prosecutors say Janavs paid Singer $50,000 in 2017 after having someone fix her daughter's ACT exam answers and another $50,000 in 2018 to the USC Women's Athletic Funds after her daughter was admitted into USC as a fake beach volleyball recruit. They say she wired Singer's sham nonprofit an additional $25,000 in February after someone changed answers on the ACT for Janavs' younger daughter.

More: Felicity Huffman is just the beginning: Who's pleaded guilty in the college admissions scandal — and who's still fighting

The plea reversals come after the sentencing this fall of 10 parents charged in the scheme who pleaded guilty in the spring. Only one avoided prison. 

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani sentenced Robert Flaxman, a developer who specializes in luxurious resorts, to one month in prison for paying $75,000 to Singer to have someone change answers on his daughter's ACT exam. 

Flaxman's daughter took the ACT exam together with one of Henriquez daughters at a testing center in Houston in 2016, Flaxman admitted. Mark Riddell, a private high school counselor paid by Singer, helped them answer questions as a group, prosecutors say. Riddell advised them to answer questions differently to not alert the ACT to the cheating.

Flaxman's attorney, William Weinreb, said Flaxman cheated out of desperation to help his daughter who was struggling and needed a safe place to recover. Court documents have redacted details of his daughter's issues.

"I apologize to the students who work hard and don’t cheat no matter what,” Flaxman told the judge before starting to sob. “I’m sorry “

Eighteen parents, including actress Lori Loughlin, have pleaded not guilty to charges and are on track for trial next year.

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Third parent switches to guilty plea in college admissions scandal