Hours after her husband learned he would spend more than three years in prison, “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice was sentenced to 15 months behind bars this afternoon for her part in the couple’s multimillion-dollar fraud case.
Giudice must serve her sentence before her husband, Joe, begins his own term. The arrangement allows one of the parents to remain with the couple's four daughters. U.S. District Court Judge Esther Salas ordered the wife to serve two years' probation following the completion of her term and fined her $8,000.
Salas, who spoke for about 10 minutes in the Newark courtroom, said she considered sparing Teresa Giudice from prison. In the end, however, the judge said she needed to send a message.
“For a moment, I thought about probation," Salas said. "For a moment."
She later added: "I need to send a message that it isn’t who you are, how famous you are. If you do something wrong, there will be consequences to pay.”
The judge expressed some sympathy for Giudice, saying it was her husband who took the lead in the fraud. Salas called her a "dedicated mother" and noted she had expressed "genuine remorse."
At the same time, Salas said she was "greatly offended" by the lack of transparency in the couple's asset disclosures to probation officials.
“Confinement is absolutely necessary in this case,” Salas said, adding, "I don’t honestly believe you respect the law.”
Giudice must report to prison Jan. 5. She could have been sentenced to as much as 27 months under the plea agreement.
Tearful, her voice breaking, Giudice apologized before Salas handed down the sentence.
“I’m so scared. I’m blessed, but today I am also humbled. I fully take responsibility for my actions,” Giudice said. ”This is not how I was raised. I am more sorry than anyone will ever know."
Earlier in the day, Joe Giudice was sentenced to 41 months in prison. The husband, who was born in Italy and moved to the United States when he was a year old, never obtained citizenship and faces the prospect of deportation. But Salas said the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement told the court that if they seek to deport him, they would wait until after he has served his sentence.
"I stand here humiliated before the court and my family and society," Joe Giudice said nervously before Salas delivered her sentence. "I disgraced many people, including my wife and four daughters. I take full responsibility for my actions. I promise to be a better person."
Joe Giudice's lawyer Miles Feinstein delivered a long tribute on his client's behalf, asking Salas to consider leniency because Joe took responsibility for the crimes in an attempt to exonerate his wife. "That is the mark of a real man," he said.
He talked at length about the recent death of Joe's father Frank, who died from a massive heart attack "in Joe's arms," and how devastated his client has been since then. Though mostly stoic throughout the hearing, at this point Joe Giudice took a tissue offered by his wife and wiped away tears.
"Nobody can say Joe Giudice is not a good and considerate son," Feinstein said. "He's a low-key and loving individual. This is the real Joe. Not the 'Housewives' Joe."
He also read a letter from Joe's mother Filomena, who could not be in court due to health problems. "My son needs a slap on the wrist, not to be taken away from his family."
Salas later responded: "It's
not a slap on your wrist you need, Mr. Giudice. Uh-uh. You need to understand the laws of this country and that they need to be respected."
Earlier in the hearing, Salas grew visibly angry with the couple over what she called their "glaring" omissions and inconsistences in their required pre-sentencing financial disclosure statement, and that Feinstein couldn't confirm whether his client had actually paid the $224,000 he owes in back taxes. She called it "a direct affront to the court."
Just before delivering the sentence, which includes 12 months to run concurrently for failing to file his tax returns in 2004, Salas told Joe: "I am not sure you respect the court. I am not sure you respect our laws. And I am not sure you understand yet what you did."
But she also said she took into account the dozens of letters written on his behalf that describe him as a loving and devoted husband and father in not giving him the full recommended sentence of 46 months.
"A sentence under the top end of the range would be appropriate," she said, "but I have to give you credit for the live you have lived, at least to the people you have loved."
Before recessing, she told Joe Giudice she wished him luck. "What you did in this case doesn't define you as a man. You have a lot to live for."
The original 41-count indictment carried the possibility of dozens of years in prison for the couple, who have four children aged 13 to 5.
The extravagant exploits of the Montville couple were first celebrated by Bravo's cameras; their financial freefall and legal woes were then chronicled relentlessly by the news media.
Their troubles first surfaced in 2009, when the couple declared bankruptcy. citing millions in debt and blaming the economy for torpedoing Joe's real estate ventures.
The bankruptcy trustee representing their creditors questioned the couple's failure to declare assets and income, including rental properties and Teresa's "Real Housewives of New Jersey" true salary. Joe later took the Fifth Amendment when questioned about the apparently flawed bankruptcy filing, and they both abandoned their quest to get their debt absolved in 2011. They still owe millions.
Joe Giudice was indicted in 2010 for using his brother's identification to get a New Jersey driver's license because his own was suspended due to a DUI, charges that carry more than 10 years in prison. And in July 2013, federal prosecutors not only brought bankruptcy fraud charges against the couple, but alleged a long-running conspiracy from their pre-fame days to illegally obtain millions in mortgages, construction loans and lines of credit using falsified W-2 forms and tax returns. Joe also failed to pay income tax on nearly $1 million in earnings over five years, prosecutors alleged.
Real Housewives stars admit guilt Paul J. Fishman, United States Attorney for New Jersey, hold a press conference outside of Federal Court in Newark after Joe and Teresa Giudice, two of the stars of Bravo's "Real Housewives of New Jersey" show, plead guilty to mortgage and bankruptcy fraud charges. Video by Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger
Though they maintained their innocence — "We're good people. I don't understand why this is happening to us," Teresa said in her first post-indictment interview with Bravo's Andy Cohen — and claimed prosecutors targeted them because they're famous, they eventually pleaded guilty to one count of mail and wire fraud and three counts of bankruptcy fraud, while Joe also pleaded guilty to one count of failing to file a tax return.