Things are looking bleak for "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" stars Teresa and Joe Giudice.
The controversial couple, who were hit with a 39-count indictment last July (two more indictments were later added in November), appeared in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, on Tuesday morning to accept a plea deal in their respective cases that could see them both log prison time.
Both Teresa, 41, and Joe, 43, originally entered not guilty pleas to all counts in November. Today's proceedings only focused on the federal charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Joe still faces state charges in New Jersey as well. The cases stretch back to September 2001 through June 2011.
"Teresa and Giuseppe Giudice used deception and fraud to cheat banks, bankruptcy court and the IRS," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. "With their guilty pleas, they admitted the schemes with which they were charged. Having now confessed their wrongdoing, the Giudices face the real cost of their criminal conduct."
As a part of the agreement, Teresa pleaded guilty to four of the 41 charges to face a lesser sentence. The most serious count, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, would have carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The other three charges — bankruptcy fraud by concealment of assets, bankruptcy fraud by false oaths, and bankruptcy fraud by false declarations — each would have carried a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Teresa now only faces a maximum of two years (21 to 27 months) in prison. She was also forced to surrender $200,000 prior to entering her plea.
Joe pleaded guilty to the same four counts, along with one additional charge of failure to file a tax return. The plea reduced his prison sentence to around three to four years (37 to 46 months), with a five year maximum.
[Related: Teresa and Joe Giudice Plead Not Guilty to New Fraud Charges (Nov. 2013)]
Sentencing, which will be determined by the presiding judge, Esther Salas, is scheduled for July 8 at 10:30 a.m. ET.
At a press conference after the hearing, the couple's attorneys said that the plea agreement was in the best interest of their four children.
"Today, I took responsibility for a series of mistakes I made several years ago," Teresa said in a statement released through her lawyer, Henry E. Klingeman. "I have said throughout that I respect the legal process and thus I intend to address the court directly at sentencing. I will describe the choices I made, continue to take responsibility for my decisions, and express my remorse to Judge Salas and the public. I am heartbroken that this is affecting my family — especially my four young daughters, who mean more to me than anything in the world. Beyond this, I do not intend to speak specifically about the case outside of court, at the recommendation of my attorney and out of deference to the government and our legal system."
Now the Giudices legal team is scrambling to keep the couple away from prison. Wendy Feldman, a legal expert working directly with the Giudices as a legal crisis manager, tells "The Insider With Yahoo" that the next steps involve a thorough pre-sentencing investigation of the couple's circumstances.
"An examination will take place and a sentencing consultation will occur between the Giudice's lawyers and the U.S. Attorney," Feldman says. "A possible sentencing agreement could involve any combination that includes probations, fines, house arrest, halfway houses, and ultimately, prison."
However, Feldman adds that Judge Salas is one of the youngest federal judges in the United States. "I think she'll be very fair."
"The Real Housewives of New Jersey" is currently filming its sixth season, and despite their legal woes, the Giudices plan to continue their involvement with the show.
"I just spoke with Teresa and Joe and, the thing is, they're actually in as good of spirits as they can be in," notes Feldman. "They're a very strong couple."
Teresa's fellow real housewife, NeNe Leakes from the Atlanta cast, who just joined the new cast of "Dancing with the Stars," stopped by "The Insider" Tuesday morning and shared her thoughts on the Giudices' predicament. "Honestly, I have to say I wish [Teresa and Joe] all the best because I don’t wish harm on anybody," she said. "I don’t want to see her have to go to jail, she is a mom, she has kids, I have kids, and her kids need her. So, I just wish her all the best."
Copies of the signed plea agreements will be posted on the U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey, website.
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