I’ve been following the college admission bribery scandal with a certain detached bemusement, so I didn’t realize until today that one of the mothers caught up in it is the Hot Pockets heiress.
I didn’t even realize there was a Hot Pockets heiress. To me the concept sounds like a comic setup, akin to the Oh Henry! heiress from “Seinfeld.” But no, she exists, her name is Michelle Janavs, and she just got five months in federal prison for cheating to get two daughters into USC. She admitted to paying $100,000 to have a ringer take the ACT college entrance exam under her kids’ names. She also paid $200,000 to have someone in USC’s athletics certify one of the girls as a “beach volleyball recruit,” according to Reuters. (I never even knew that beach volleyball was a collegiate sport.)
When I say “detached bemusement,” what I mean is, as a Stanford alumnus, my only connection to the scandal was a frantic email from the dean of admissions after it came to light that Stanford’s sailing coach had also accepted bribes from rich parents. He assured everyone that no one else at Stanford took money. Good to know, but the sums of money thrown around were jaw-dropping, at least to someone in my income bracket. Too bad my parents have passed; I could have really shaken them down: “Mom, Dad, see how much money I saved you by studying? How about giving me half now?”
Michelle Janavs was in a position to bribe her daughters’ way into the University of Spoiled Children because her father, Paul Merage, and uncle, David Merage, founded Chef America, developed Hot Pockets, and sold their company to Nestlé in 2002 for $2.6 billion.
Now, you don’t have to like Hot Pockets – you can even share comedian Jim Gaffigan’s attitude toward them (“I’m gonna die. I paid for that? Did I eat it or rub it on my face?”) – but you have to respect the achievements of men who saw that there was a fortune in Americanizing calzone and formulating it for the microwave. That took a lot of work and risk. Paul Merage is in his mid-eighties now; I wonder what he thinks about having worked that hard to have his granddaughters slide into college through bribery.