It’s sometimes hard to remember that, beyond Felicity Huffman and Aunt Becky, the college admissions scandal included 53 extraordinarily wealthy people who were indicted in federal court over allegations that they paid large bribes to get their children into elite colleges. For that reason, it comes as no surprise that a new player has emerged: Michelle Janavs, who the press has dubbed “the Hot Pocket heiress.”
Janavs is a former executive at Chef America Inc., a food manufacturer co-founded by her father, Paul Merage, and her uncle, David Merage and best known for developing the Hot Pocket in 1983. By 2002 the company had sold to Nestle S.A. for $2.6 billion, likely making her very very rich.
Now Janavs is an exciting enigma: Who is she and where has she been before today?
According to Reuters, Janavs faces sentencing today in Boston federal court for allegedly paying $300,000 in bribes to Operation Varsity Blues ringleader Rick Singer and his associates to get her two daughters into university. As The New York Post writes, $100,000 supposedly went to a proctor who corrected the children’s ACT exams after filing. The remaining $200,000 allowed one daughter to be falsely labeled as a beach volleyball recruit at the University of Southern California. Janavs was arrested before her daughter was admitted. In October 2019, Janavs pleaded guilty on charges of fraud and money laundering. Today, prosecutors seek a sentence of 21 months in prison.
Unfortunately, Janavs is mostly offline: she appears to have no public Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin account, which has made an easy dive into her personal life difficult. (Why can’t everyone be Olivia Jade?)
What is easily traceable, however, are the origins of the Hot Pocket. The tale goes something like this: Back in the ‘60s, the Merage brothers immigrated to the United States from Tehran and went to university in California. They decided to build a business in the food industry, naming it Chef America Inc. Though the pair began experimenting with frozen Belgian waffles, according to Saveur, soon, they realized that lunch and dinner, rather than breakfast and dessert, is where the American money was at.
With families always on the go, they decided to create a portable food that could safely be prepared by children. They dubbed their microwave sandwich experiment the Tastywich in 1980, but by 1983 the recipe had been perfected and thus the Hot Pocket was born.
It seems as though the Hot Pocket heiress has experience at the corruption rodeo. According to ProPublica, prior to the Janavs’ alleged bribes, a foundation controlled by her father wired $400,000 to Rick Singer’s Key Worldwide Foundation back in May 2017, presumably to secure her son Grant Janavs a spot at Georgetown. (He’s not part of the current indictment.) According to the report, it was Janavs who hired Singer. Prosecutors at the time believed the money went to Georgetown tennis coach Gordon Ernst to enroll Grant as a tennis recruit. Not long after payment, Singer emailed Janavs, “I just spoke to Gordie and let him know.”
Much like a Hot Pocket is meant to supplant a traditional meal but often emerges from its microwave prison flaccid and frozen in the middle, bribing your kids way into an elite future may not yield the same results as putting in the work. (The work here, obviously, is a real ass meal.)
If you have any information on Janavs or the Hot Pocket family, please, we’re dying to know more. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.