'They want to send a clear message,' says a legal source close to the investigation

By Steve Helling
April 10, 2019 10:37 AM

Prosecutors want jail time for Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin in the high-profile college admissions cheating scandal, a source close to the investigation tells PEOPLE.

“They want to send a clear message, and that message includes jail time,” the source says. “Prosecutors know this is a high profile case and they want to make an example of the defendants.”

On March 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced that it had charged 50 people, including Huffman and Loughlin, in the cheating scandal. The two actresses, along with coaches, admissions counselors, parents and Loughlin’s husband, fashion designer J. Mossimo Giannulli, were accused of such alleged crimes as falsifying SAT scores and lying about the athletic skills of their children.

RELATED: Felicity Huffman’s Husband Discussed ‘Stressful’ College Admission Process Before Bribery Scandal

Felicity Huffman on her way into federal court in Boston on April 3, 2019.
Charles Krupa/AP/Shutterstock

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RELATED: Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy Make Courthouse Return After Her College Admissions Scandal Arrest

Huffman allegedly paid $15,000 to admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer and his nonprofit organization, Key Worldwide Foundation (“KWF”), which prosecutors said was actually a front for accepting bribes. Singer then allegedly facilitated cheating on Huffman’s daughter’s SAT test by having a proctor correct the teen’s answers after the fact.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

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.”

RELATED: Amid the College Admissions Scandal, Here Are 8 Organizations Helping Disadvantaged Students

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.

RELATED: Why William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman’s Husband, Was Not Charged in College Cheating Scandal

Steven Senne/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Loughlin has not yet admitted to any guilt — and things got worse for her on Tuesday, when she and Giannulli were among 16 parents indicted on an additional felony charge of money laundering conspiracy. They now face up to 20 years in prison for each charge.

Although both women face different charges, the source says prosecutors want jail time for both of them — despite Huffman’s agreement to plea.

“[The prosecutors] are saying that the only way anyone’s going to escape jail time is if they go to trial and are found not guilty,” says the source. “But they’re saying the they have such meticulous evidence that it would be foolish to take that risk.”

Attorneys for Loughlin, Giannulli and Huffman have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.