SAN JOSE, Calif. — A California mother who prosecutors say gloated over cheating to get her daughters into elite universities has offered up a novel argument why she shouldn’t go to prison: Time behind bars would needlessly expose her to the potentially deadly coronavirus.
Prosecutors in the college admissions cheating scandal that gripped the country a year ago have argued that Elizabeth Henriquez, wife of an Atherton financier, stands out as the most egregious of parents who have pleaded guilty and deserves 26 months in prison, the longest they have sought so far.
But in a sentencing memorandum Thursday, Henriquez’s lawyers argue “the unprecedented and unexpected COVID-19 crisis has thrown into serious question whether a defendant like Elizabeth — a non-violent, first-time offender in her late 50s and with underlying health conditions … should be incarcerated.”
They instead recommended five months of home detention.
“Placing Elizabeth into the federal prison population at the present time presents significant health risks,” the memorandum said.
Henriquez and her husband, Manuel Henriquez, a founder and former chief executive of Hercules Capital in Palo Alto, pleaded guilty Oct. 21. She is scheduled to be sentenced March 31 and his sentencing is set for April 8. Prosecutors are recommending 18 months in prison for Manuel Henriquez. Only one parent who pleaded guilty has avoided prison.
In their sentencing recommendations last month, prosecutors said the Henriquezes “rank among the most culpable parents charged.”
“Manuel and Elizabeth Henriquez cheated on more standardized tests than any other co-conspirator: twice for their oldest daughter and three times for their youngest daughter,” prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum, adding they also helped their older daughter apply as a bogus competitive tennis player.
The scandal revolved around corrupt California college admission consultant William “Rick” Singer, who has pleaded guilty to racketeering, conspiracy and fraud charges and cooperated with investigators. A sentencing date for Singer has not been set.
Prosecutors said Singer offered wealthy parents two avenues to cheating their kids’ way into elite universities with money paid through his bogus education charity. The payments would go to corrupt test proctors who made special arrangements for the students to take the SAT or ACT entrance exams and then corrected their answers, or to bribe university coaches to flag the applicants as athletic recruits with phony profiles.
Fourteen other accused parents, including actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, filed a motion to dismiss charges earlier this week. They are scheduled for trial in October and January. Among them are several Bay Area parents, including Gregory and Amy Colburn of Palo Alto, Todd and Diane Blake and Bill McGlashan of Marin County.
Prosecutors said that beginning in 2015, the Henriquezes paid Singer nearly $50,000 for test cheating for their two daughters and $400,000 toward bribing the former Georgetown University tennis coach to admit the older girl as a “side door” recruit to his team.
During a car ride home with Singer’s corrupt test proctor, after he corrected the older girl’s answers on her SAT exam, prosecutors said, the proctor, who also has pleaded guilty, “gloated with Elizabeth Henriquez and her daughter, celebrating their successful fraud.” The older daughter was admitted to Georgetown.
Prosecutors said that in exchange for test cheating for their younger daughter, Manuel Henriquez used his influence at Northeastern University in Boston, where they say he is a “prominent alumnus,” to secure admission for another Singer client. The Henriquezes’ younger daughter was admitted to Northwestern University near Chicago.
The longest sentence for any parent who has pleaded guilty in the case so far was nine months in prison for Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of Pacific Investment Management Company, the world’s largest bond manager. Prosecutors had sought 24 months for him.
Lawyers for Elizabeth Henriquez argued her conduct was more like that of “Hot Pockets” heiress Michelle Janavs, sentenced last month to five months in prison.
“Elizabeth makes no excuses for her criminal conduct,” her sentencing memorandum said. “But she is not the spoiled, self-entitled, disdainful woman that the government has portrayed her to be. The government has sought to paint Elizabeth as a cynical Silicon Valley socialite whose insatiable desire for prestige drove her to do anything — even engage in a criminal conspiracy — to procure trophy diplomas for her daughters.”
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