A source says Lori Loughlin and her husband are "very focused on getting the legal case worked out. They can deal with careers and finances later"

By Greg Hanlon and Steve Helling
April 25, 2019 12:10 PM
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Lori Loughlin faces criminal charges in the college admissions scandal — and the actress worries the charges will overshadow her career and permanently ruin her reputation, a source familiar with the case tells PEOPLE.

“Lori is shocked and saddened that this is what her legacy is going to be,” the source says.

Earlier this month, both Loughlin, 54, and husband Mossimo Giannulli, 55, pleaded not guilty to the charges they face: mail fraud and money laundering conspiracy. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison for each charge.

According to the source, Loughlin and Giannulli didn’t fully grasp that their alleged bribery was illegal.

“You read the complaint and they look like criminal masterminds,” the source says. “But they really didn’t know the legalities of what was going on. They’re not lawyers and they’re not experts. They were parents who simply wanted to make sure that their daughters got into a good school.”

Mossimo Giannulli, Lori Loughlin
Donato Sardella/Getty Images for LACMA

The source tells PEOPLE that Loughlin and Giannulli truly believed that their actions were comparable to those of other parents who take extraordinary steps to help their their children get into upper-tier colleges.

“Calling in favors, donating money to the alumni association, hiring consultants. Those are all things that parents do,” says the source. “And so they gave money to this consultant, not entirely knowing everything that was going to be done. When it all fell apart, nobody was as surprised as they were that they were in trouble.”

The source continues, “She never intended to break any laws, and if she did, it was inadvertent.”

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On March 12, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts announced it had charged 50 people, including Loughlin and Giannulli, in the cheating scandal. The actress, 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.

Loughlin allegedly wanted her daughters to get into the University of Southern California so badly that she and Giannulli allegedly 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.

The criminal complaint against them alleged the couple devised a plan to “present their younger daughter, falsely, as a crew coxswain for the L.A. Marina Club team, and requested that the Giannullis’s send an ‘Action Picture,’ asking a few days later for a picture on the ‘erg’ — or rowing machine, which Giannulli did a few days later.”

The source says the couple is “very focused on getting the legal case worked out. They can deal with careers and finances later. Right now, they need to deal with mounting their defense, while still negotiating for any sort of deal.”

He adds, “Everything else is secondary. Lori, in particular, is very focused. She is being very no-nonsense about this now.”

Reps for Loughlin and Giannulli have not returned PEOPLE’s calls for comment.