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Lori Loughlin and husband hit with new charge — will they go to jail?

NBC legal analyst Ari Melber says jail time would be part of any deal for the actress unless somehow charges get dropped.
/ Source: TODAY

Lori Loughlin's situation looks like it just went from bad to worse.

The actress and her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, are among 16 parents facing a new charge of money laundering announced by the U.S. attorney's office on Tuesday in connection with the widespread college admissions cheating scandal, which experts say increases the chances of potential jail time.

The former "Full House" actress and Giannulli had already been charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud after allegedly paying $500,000 in bribes to help their two daughters get admitted into the University of Southern California.

The additional charge could mean that if they decide to take a plea deal now instead of going to trial, their potential jail time could be worse than if they had taken a plea deal earlier, according to NBC legal analyst Ari Melber.

"I think it just puts a lot more pressure on them. ... The feds often hold the cards. They can add to the charges, now they can add to the potential jail time,'' Melber said on TODAY Wednesday. "These are going to be serious conversations they're going to be having with their lawyers about why their deal just got worse if they take it."

In the new charge, prosecutors said the parents funneled money through a fake charity and transferred funds from outside of the country "for the purpose of promoting the fraud scheme." The guidelines for sentencing vary depending on the amount of the alleged bribes.

"With these kinds of charges, it would look like jail time would be a part of any deal unless something happened where you dropped some of the charges,'' Melber said. "The money laundering is very serious. They are in a much worse position than what they were dealing with when it was just cheating, which is serious but not as heavy a charge as money laundering."

Felicity Huffman, another high-profile actress indicted in the scheme, agreed to plead guilty on Monday. The former "Desperate Housewives" star admitted she paid at least $15,000 to arrange for a proctor to change answers on her eldest daughter’s SAT. Melber said on TODAY Tuesday that Huffman will most likely face "little, if any" jail time.

As for Loughlin and Giannulli, they do have the option of taking it to trial, which could be risky given that the alleged mastermind of the scheme, William Rick Singer, has already pleaded guilty to multiple charges and is cooperating with federal prosecutors.

"There may be people where the evidence against them is less, but it's always hard when you have the guy behind the whole thing testifying against everyone he sold these services to,'' Melber said.