Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband pleaded not guilty Monday to two charges against them in the college admissions cheating scandal — and a legal source close to the couple tells PEOPLE that having rejected an offer for a deal from prosecutors, their plea was “the only choice they’ve got.”
“She probably should have taken the deal, but at the time, she didn’t really realize how serious the charges were,” the source tells PEOPLE.
“More than that, I think she and her lawyers underestimated how motivated the prosecution was. So she didn’t plead, and then they hit her with another charge. Now she’s willing to negotiate, but the prosecution says that the deal is off the table. So the only choice they’ve got is to plead not guilty. That’s all they can do.”
The source confirms to PEOPLE that Loughlin and husband J. Mossimo Giannulli pleaded not guilty to both charges they face: mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison for each charge.
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On March 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced that it had charged 50 people, including Loughlin and fellow actress Felicity Huffman, in the cheating scandal. The two actresses, along with coaches, admissions counselors and parents were accused of such alleged crimes as falsifying SAT scores and lying about the athletic skills of their children.
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Huffman has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, saying, “I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions.”
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Loughlin, meanwhile, allegedly wanted her daughters to get into the University of Southern California so badly that she and Giannulli paid approximately $500,000 in bribes to falsely designate their daughters as recruits to the USC crew team — despite the fact that they did not participate in crew.
Loughlin and Ginnulli have hired a team of high-profile attorneys to represent them in the case.
“They decided to roll the dice,” the legal source told PEOPLE last week about their decision to reject the plea deal, “and it may have been a bad gamble. Now they’re in worse shape than before.”
“ are saying that the only way anyone’s going to escape jail time is if they go to trial and are found not guilty,” the source told PEOPLE. “But they’re saying the they have such meticulous evidence that it would be foolish to take that risk.”
Reps for Loughlin and Giannulli have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.