A Los Angeles woman who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $1 million from HBO over her decade-long career with the company was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge John A. Kronstadt imposed the sentence on Jennifer Choi, 39, a former manager in the cable network’s talent relations department. The prison term is 21 months less than what federal prosecutors had requested in court papers.
As part of her job, Choi scheduled such services as hairstyling and makeup for HBO’s roster of actors and actresses. Unbeknownst to HBO, Choi established a company called Shine Glossy, which claimed to provide makeup and styling services, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Through Shine Glossy, Choi submitted phony invoices starting in 2008 for services that were not provided, but she used the names of actors, giving the invoices an aura of legitimacy.
The fraudulent billing scheme continued until Choi’s termination in 2014 and netted her more than $900,000, according to court papers.
Choi pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud as well as one count of tax evasion, a charge that derived from failing to report her ill-gotten gains. She also admitted to using HBO’s private car service to give rides to herself, her family and friends. Prosecutors said she used about $63,000 worth of unauthorized car service.
“This was a crime motivated by greed,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeffrey Chemerinsky wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “Almost all of this money appears to have been spent to support an extravagant lifestyle. Defendant was not driven to her crimes as many defendants who come before this court are: by need, by desperation or by the inability to do anything else.”
But defense attorney Zoe Dolan traced her client’s misconduct to the fallout from her HIV diagnosis as well as HBO’s purported corporate culture of “lax spending standards,” according to court papers.
In a publicly filed letter written to the judge, Choi said she “spiraled out of control” after she was diagnosed with HIV in 2007. Choi, who grew up in Pacific Palisades, said that she tried to maintain a veneer of success and perfection, and sought to put others’ needs before her own.
Getting caught “slammed” her into reality, she wrote.
“I do not have a fairytale life,” Choi said. “The glitz and glamour of the entertainment world were just distractions.”
She pleaded for leniency, telling the judge she had a 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter whom she wanted to raise with a sense of respect and integrity.
“I am deeply ashamed and regret all the pain I have caused my former co-workers, parents, husband, children and friends,” she said.
Friends and colleagues in the entertainment industry also asked the judge to consider Choi’s character.
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“I know she is capable of greater positive achievements in the future, if given another chance,” former colleague Stanley W. Cooke Matthews said in a letter.
At Choi’s sentencing Thursday in downtown Los Angeles, Kronstadt ordered her to pay nearly $1 million in restitution to HBO and about $283,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.
In her letter, Choi acknowledged the burden of the restitution but seemed hopeful.
“I know it will not be easy to secure a job because I am a felon,” she said, “but I am determined to find a new path.”