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Law360 (March 30, 2020, 1:34 PM EDT) -- Ahead of a Tuesday sentencing hearing, federal prosecutors pushed back against efforts by a mother who pled guilty in the "Varsity Blues" college admissions case to downplay her involvement in the schemes, but said they would ask the judge to delay any prison term during the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton will decide whether Elizabeth Henriquez will have to do time after admitting to working with "Varsity Blues" mastermind William "Rick" Singer to help her two daughters get into college through fraudulent means. Henriquez, citing the pandemic, has argued for probation and house arrest. The government has said it will seek 26 months behind bars, but in a Monday filing, prosecutors said they would not push to jail her while the health crisis is ongoing.
"While the government respectfully submits that Henriquez's conduct warrants a meaningful sentence of imprisonment, the government also believes that a continuance of Henriquez's self-report date would be appropriate in light of the coronavirus pandemic," the memorandum said.
The rest of the three-page document sought to rebut Henriquez's claims that she was a somewhat unwitting participant in the scheme and believed the $400,000 payment she made to Singer was a legitimate donation to Georgetown University, not a bribe to the school's then-tennis coach, Gordon Ernst, so he would falsely designate Henriquez's daughter as one of his recruits.
Henriquez "mischaracterizes" the six-figure payment, prosecutors said, noting that she admitted during her guilty plea hearing last fall that she understood the money would go to Ernst as a quid pro quo to get her older daughter into Georgetown.
"Henriquez also knew that the payment was not legitimate because she knew that her daughter was not a Division 1 caliber tennis player, and that her credentials were being falsified so that Ernst could credibly allocate one of his walk-on spots to her in exchange for the money," the government memo argued.
"Legitimate donations do not involve such deceit," prosecutors added. "This was not using her wealth to give her daughter an 'additional leg up in the college admissions process,' as Henriquez contends. This was fraud."
Henriquez was not a victim of Singer, the government argued, but a willing and active participant in the college admissions scheme. In addition to the Georgetown payment, prosecutors listed five separate occasions on which, they say, Henriquez paid various sums to fraudulently inflate her two daughters' college admissions test scores.
Prosecutors also said Henriquez has a higher level of culpability than Hot Pockets heiress Michelle Janavs, who received a five-month prison term after her own guilty plea. In Henriquez's sentencing memorandum, she said she would have asked for a similar sentence but for the ongoing pandemic and her contention that Singer made her payment seem like a legitimate donation.
"Janavs cheated twice on the ACT and pursued the [University of Southern California] side door once, while Henriquez engaged in the testing fraud five times in addition to pursuing the Georgetown side door," the government countered. "Their goals might have been similar, but the repeated nature of Henriquez's conduct renders her more culpable."
Henriquez's sentencing Tuesday will take place by video conference, a rare and potentially risky arrangement for the defense. Her husband, former Hercules Capital Chairman and CEO Manuel Henriquez, also pled guilty in connection with the case and is scheduled to be sentenced in early April.
A government representative and counsel for Henriquez declined to comment Monday.
The government is represented by Eric S. Rosen, Justin D. O'Connell, Leslie A. Wright and Kristen A. Kearney of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts.
Elizabeth Henriquez is represented by Aaron M. Katz, Colleen A. Conry and Laura Gaffney Hoey of Ropes & Gray LLP.
The case is U.S. v. Sidoo et al., case number 1:19-cr-10080, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
--Editing by Marygrace Murphy.
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