By Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) - An heir to a microwave snack fortune and a former chief executive of investment firm Pimco cannot use the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to avoid prison time for convictions in the U.S. college admissions scandal, a federal judge ruled on Thursday, although they can delay starting their sentences.
U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton in Boston said that while the public health crisis warranted delaying when Michelle Janavs and Douglas Hodge would report to prison, he would not allow them to serve their sentences at home instead.
Janavs, whose family's company created the microwavable food Hot Pockets, and Hodge, who served as CEO of Pimco from 2014 to 2016, had been scheduled next week to begin serving prison sentences of five and nine months, respectively.
They were sentenced in February after pleading guilty to participating in a scheme in which wealthy parents conspired with a college admissions consultant through fraud and bribery to secure the admission of their children to top universities.
William "Rick" Singer, the consultant, pleaded guilty in March 2019 to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and helping bribe university sports coaches to present his clients' children as fake athletic recruits.
As the COVID-19 outbreak worsened, lawyers for Janavs and Hodge asked the judge to allow them to serve their sentences in home detention, citing concerns about how the virus can spread within prisons.
Gorton said he was "cognizant of the particular transmission risk in penitentiary facilities" but would not "forfeit his obligation to impose a sentence that is warranted by a defendant's criminal conduct."
He instead said they could wait until June 30 to report to prison. If at that time the crisis remains, Gorton said they could renew their requests.
Their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.
Since March 2019, 53 people have been charged connection with the college admissions scandal, including "Full House" star Lori Loughlin, who is fighting the charges.
Janavs's father co-founded Chef America Inc, which created the microwave snack line Hot Pockets before being sold to Nestle SA for $2.6 billion (£2.1 billion) in 2002.
Prosecutors said Janavs paid Singer $100,000 to have a proctor correct her two daughters' ACT entrance exam answers and agreed to pay $200,000 to have one daughter admitted to the University of Southern California as a fake beach volleyball recruit.
Hodge conspired to pay $850,000 in bribes to have four of his children admitted to USC and Georgetown University as fake athletic recruits, prosecutors said.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by David Gregorio)