Bay Area executive avoids prison in college cheating scheme

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BOSTON — The owner of a California frozen foods company avoided jail Friday for paying $15,000 to rig his daughter's college entrance exam in a widespread admissions scandal.

Peter Jan Sartorio, of Menlo Park, California, was sentenced in federal court in Boston to a year of probation after pleading guilty in May to a single count of fraud and conspiracy in a deal with prosecutors. U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani also ordered him to perform 250 hours of community service and pay a $9,500 fine.

Sartorio, 53, admitted to paying a college admissions consultant who then bribed two test proctors to fix his daughter's ACT answers in 2017. Authorities say Sartorio paid in cash to avoid a paper trail.

Prosecutors had requested a month in prison and the fine. Sartorio's lawyers asked for probation and a fine, saying he deserved leniency for being the first parent to plead guilty.

In an Oct. 4 court filing, Sartorio's lawyers said he's genuinely remorseful, adding that he's different than other, wealthier parents accused in the scheme.

"Mr. Sartorio is a small-scale entrepreneur," they wrote. "He is neither rich nor famous — and he has no aspirations to achieve either status. Mr. Sartorio's nascent, small business has struggled since his arrest in this case and it is unclear whether it will survive."

Sartorio owns Elena's Food Specialties, a San Francisco company that makes frozen natural food products. In a letter to the court, his mother wrote that losing the business "seems unavoidable" and that Sartorio will have to sell his home.

The testing scam gave his daughter an ACT score that ranked in the 86th percentile nationally, prosecutors said. They said it helped her get into college "at the expense of a more qualified candidate."

Prosecutors said Sartorio kept the scheme hidden from his daughter. They have not said which college she attended or whether she is currently enrolled.

Sartorio is among 15 parents who pleaded guilty in the scheme, which ensnared dozens of wealthy parents accused of paying bribes to cheat on college entrance exams or to get their children into elite schools as fake athletic recruits. They include "Desperate Housewives" star Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced last month to 14 days in jail for paying $15,000 to rig her daughter's SAT scores.

Another 19 parents are fighting the charges, including "Full House" actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, who are accused of paying $500,000 to get their two daughters into the University of Southern California as fake athletes.

The seven parents sentenced before Sartorio all received prison sentences, ranging from 14 days to five months. They were also ordered to pay fines ranging from $30,000 to $100,000.

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AP Education Writer Collin Binkley in Boston contributed to this report.

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