Jennifer Choi, the former HBO talent relations manager who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $1 million from the premium cable network, was sentenced today to 30 months in federal prison and more than $1.2 million in restiutution.
The three charges to which she pleaded guilty a year ago – two counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion – carried a maximum prison sentence of 45 years, but U.S. District Court Judge John Kronstad decided to go easy on her, giving her only half of the 60-month sentence recommended by the U.S. Probation Office. This despite the fact that she had a prior grand theft conviction for embezzling from another former employer.
Along with the prison term, Choi also must pay a little more than $1 million to HBO and nearly $284,000 to the IRS.
Choi’s own story could make for a compelling HBO movie. Fired from HBO in September 2014, she was responsible for scheduling services – such as hairstyling, wardrobe and makeup – for actors associated with HBO shows. As part of her scheme, she set up a company called Shine Glossy, which she used to submit bogus invoices to HBO for style and makeup services. But according to court documents, the services never were provided, and HBO funds instead went directly into a bank account she had established. Through Shine Glossy, she submitted nearly 300 fraudulent invoices that led HBO to pay roughly $940,000.
She also admitted that she used a car service for herself, her family and her friends and provided HBO’s account information, which led the car service to bill HBO for the unauthorized rides. As this part of that scheme, she fraudulently obtained about $63,000 in car services that were paid for by HBO.
In a defense sentencing memorandum, her attorney, Zoë Dolan, pleaded for leniency, blaming HBO’s “corporate culture” and “lax spending standards” for making theft too tempting for someone like Choi, whose troubled life had begun to spiral out of control after learning that her husband had been cheating on her during their entire marriage, and that she had contracted HIV from her first boyfriend 10 years earlier.
“In some ways, it must have been a relief for Jennifer Choi when her former employer HBO discovered in 2014 that she had been fabricating invoices for her own benefit,” Dolan wrote in the memorandum. “She had been engaging in the offense conduct for over six years at that point – and it was a period of time in which her own life had become unrecognizable to her.”