Lori Loughlin, who stands accused in the college admissions cheating scandal along with her husband, has been reluctant to plead guilty because she’s worried about her daughters, a source close to the actress tells PEOPLE.
“She is very concerned about what a guilty plea would do to her daughters, who may not have grasped everything that was going on,” the source says.
“Yes, she can think about the public perception of her, but that’s nothing compared to what her daughters think of her. So that is something that has understandably made her less likely to enter a plea.
On March 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced it had charged 50 people, including Loughlin and fellow actress Felicity Huffman, 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.
According to prosecutors, Loughlin 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.
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Huffman has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud.
But Loughlin, who faces the same charge along with her husband, 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.
Now, the gravity of the situation is becoming clear to the actress, the source says.
“It’s just taking some time for it to sink in that what she was allegedly doing could be considered illegal,” says the source. “To her, it wasn’t egregious behavior. Was it entitled and perhaps selfish? Perhaps. But she didn’t see it as being a legal violation.”
“From the beginning, she didn’t want to take a deal, because she felt that she hadn’t done anything that any mom wouldn’t have done, if they had the means to do so,” the source continues. “So this wasn’t her being obstinate; this was her truly not understanding the seriousness of the allegations.”
Reps for Loughlin and Giannulli have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.