Jennifer Choi, the former HBO employee who pleaded guilty to stealing nearly $1 million from the company, was sentenced Thursday to two and a half years in prison.
Choi, appearing in federal court in downtown Los Angeles, was given a 30-month sentence by U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt. Her prison time will be followed by three years of supervised release, including six months of home confinement with exceptions for work and some other activities. Choi will surrender to federal authorities on March 14.
The judge acknowledged Choi’s cooperation with the investigation and the fact that her incarceration will be difficult on her two young children. But he also emphasized that a prison sentence was necessary to be a deterrent to others.
“One million dollars is a lot of money to steal over the course of six years,” Kronstadt said.
Choi, 39, who worked as manager of talent relations at HBO, admitted to stealing $940,000 by submitted invoices for hair, makeup, and styling services that were never performed by a shell company that she controlled, which went on from 2008 until she was fired in September 2014. The investigation also revealed that Choi used HBO’s account to rack up $63,000 in car service bills for her family and friends.
Choi pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion in January 2016. She has agreed to pay more than $1 million in restitution to HBO and $283,000 in back taxes.
Kronstadt’s sentence forbids Choi to be employed in a capacity where she is in charge of funds for an employer during the period of her supervised release. He also said he felt it was highly unlikely she would engage in criminal activity again.
Prior to the sentencing, Choi cried softly and her voice choked as she asked the judge for leniency. She apologized for having “violated the trust” of her employer and for having “deeply disappointed my family and friends.” She told Kronstadt she sought time “to get my life back on track and make sure my children are okay.”
Choi’s lawyer, Zoe Dolan, cited the “profound personal transformation” that her client has undergone in the past 18 months in asking for Choi to be sentenced to home incarceration. Federal prosecutors had sought a 51-month prison sentence. Jeffrey Chemerinsky, assistant U.S. attorney, also conceded “there is a great deal that is sad about this case.”
In her pre-sentencing documents, Choi described her life as having spiraled out of control in 2007 when she learned she was HIV positive, and she detailed other personal struggles that motivated her billing scheme at HBO. Other friends submitted letters attesting to her warmth, caring nature, and devotion to her two children.
Dolan also made reference in court to Variety‘s Jan. 11 cover story that examined the Choi case. In her remarks to the judge, Dolan criticized Variety for delving into details of Choi’s family life, asserting to Kronstadt that the story amounted to “a punishment harsher than anything this court could ever impose.”
In addressing Choi as she dabbed her eyes with a tissue, Kronstadt acknowledged that she has faced “substantial life challenges,” and he urged her to allow the “positive qualities I’ve read about guide the rest of your life.”