The recent sentencing of Real Housewives of New Jersey stars Teresa and
Joe Guidice for multiple felonies has apparently been a bit of a shock
to viewers of the program itself and to the two stars themselves.
The Guidices were sentenced by a federal judge for a number of white collar
crimes, including tax fraud and bankruptcy fraud to which they had submitted
a plea bargain with the help of their defense attorney. Teresa Guidice
admitted to four of the charges while Joe pleaded guilty to a further
Without the plea bargain, the couple was likely to have faced millions
of dollars in fines as well as a combined total of nearly 50 years in
prison. The judge finally sentenced Teresa to 17 months in jail while
Joe was given 24 months, and the two still have big fines to pay off.
The couple was interviewed immediately on television after sentencing and
both expressed surprise that they were sentenced to any jail time at all
and said that they thought that a plea bargain meant that they would not
have to go to jail. Also, they thought that Teresa, not having a criminal
record (Joe had a previous DUI conviction) would affect the sentencing.
It may be that the two TV stars were a little disingenuous in these comments
because a federal plea bargain normally takes the form of a written statement
that clearly spells out the maximum sentence that will be considered if
the plea bargain is accepted. Felonies can attract a minimum sentence
of 0- 6 months for each individual conviction in a federal court, so considering
the fact that there were multiple felonies involved, that would have meant
several periods of 0-6 months added together.
It also seems that the Guidices would have been made aware of the differences
in federal law for economic offenses such as fraud and tax evasion which
mean that previous criminal history is not taken into consideration. The
sentence is based instead on what is considered the actual or intended
"loss". If this amount exceeds $5,000, then there is a possibility
of jail time, even in a case of a first time offense.
In the case of the two celebrities, it seems that the judge also took into
consideration what he thought about their attitude after being charged.
He said during sentencing that the couple had not been honest enough about
their fraudulent activities and did not appear to have been openly transparent.
A federal judge can use this interpretation to affect the final sentencing
even when a plea bargain is on the table. The plea itself may be rejected
or, as it seems in the case of the Guidices, a "lower end" on
the scale of potential sentence is discarded in favor of a more severe sentence.
The well publicized prosecution had attracted the attention of the Chief
of the U.S. Internal revenue Service, Chuck Weber, who claimed that the
sentencing of the Guidices was a victory for the "real taxpayers"
of New Jersey, perhaps making a reference to the TV program the Guidices
had starred in. He said that it didn't matter how much money you made
or how famous you were, you had a responsibility to pay the correct amount
of tax and reiterated that IRS agents would "follow the money trail
wherever it led". Judge Salas, giving sentence, didn't seem to
think that the Guidices "fully understood or respected" the
law and said that the sentence reflected his need to make sure he was
sending a message to the rest of the community.