Their legacy of philanthropy was tainted when Janavs was arrested one morning last March for her role in the college-admissions scandal, handcuffed along with her daughters. The girls weren’t charged with wrongdoing, though both have been banned from the exclusive Sage Hill School where Janavs and Hodge served on the board of trustees.

A spokeswoman from Sage Hill declined to comment, citing the need to protect students’ privacy.

At first, Janavs insisted she was innocent. She reversed course after new charges were added, including allegations she’d used money from a foundation controlled by her father to get her son into Georgetown. Her plea made no reference to her son and her lawyers didn’t respond to requests for comment.

American Dream

Her predicament is incongruous with her family’s reputation. The Hot Pockets payout funded numerous charitable foundations through which two generations of family members conduct philanthropy. Paul and David Merage have made education and uplifting the disadvantaged cornerstones of their giving. For years, a family foundation that counted Goldman Sachs’s Mossavar-Rahmani as a board member awarded fellowships to immigrant college graduates to help them pursue further education, professional opportunities or otherwise chase their version of “the American Dream.”

The scandal’s confessed mastermind, Rick Singer, described the different routes to admission in calls recorded by the FBI in 2018. “There is a front door which means you get in on your own,” he said. “The back door is through institutional advancement, which is 10 times as much money. And I’ve created this side door in.”

Conceivably, a family that endowed a top-tier business school with $30 million wouldn’t need a side door. Yet Janavs admits that she agreed to pay $300,000 to have a proctor correct her daughters’ standardized test scores and to promote one as a beach volleyball player.

Ideal Target

Janavs’s attorneys said her anxieties about her daughters’ college prospects made her the “ideal target for Rick Singer” and insist Singer persuaded her that her daughters should go to USC and that the only way to achieve that was by cheating. Janavs didn’t know of the fake athletic profile and believed the money would be donated to USC, they claim.

Janavs has “dedicated her time and resources to closing the opportunity gap between wealthy and working-class kids,” her lawyers wrote.