Lori Loughlin and husband feel 'manipulated by those involved' in college scam: 'They had no bad intention'

It turns out that trusting the word of a con artist might not always be the best choice.

Following Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli's decision to plead not guilty to the charges facing them in connection to the college admissions scandal on Monday, a source close to the 54-year-old actress tells ET that she feels like those who orchestrated the scheme misled her about the severity of her involvement.

"[Lori and her husband] claim they were under the impression they might be breaking rules, but not laws," the source says. "They feel they were manipulated by those involved and are planning that as part of their defense."

"They realize how serious the charges are, but feel that once the judge hears their story he will see they had no bad intentions," the source adds.

Loughlin and Giannulli are accused of paying $500,000 in bribes to get their daughters, 19-year-old Olivia and 20-year-old Bella, admitted to the University of Southern California as recruits for the crew team, even though neither of them participated in the sport.

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Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli together
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Lori Loughlin and husband Mossimo Giannulli together
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 18: Designer Mossimo Giannulli and actress Lori Loughlin attend LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala sponsored by Christie's at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/Getty Images for LACMA)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 03: Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli attend 6th Annual Kidstock Music And Arts Festival Sponsored By Hudson Jeans at Greystone Mansion on June 3, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage)
MALIBU, CA - APRIL 21: Designer Mossimo Giannulli and actress Lori Loughlin attend the Malibu Lumber Yard grand opening held at the Malibu Lumber Yard on April 21, 2009 in Malibu, California. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Actress Lori Loughlin (L) and husband Mossimo Giannulli attend the Saks Fifth Avenue's Unforgettable Evening cocktail reception benefiting Entertainment Industry Foundation's (EIF) Women's Cancer Research Fund held at the Beverly Wishire Hotel on February 20, 2008 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 28: Lori Loughlin and Mossimo attend Louis Vuitton Gala Celebrating the Takashi Murakami Exhibition at Geffen Contemporary at Moca on October 28, 2007 in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by BRIAN LINDENSMITH/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
John Stamos and Lori Loughlin during Target Hosts LA Fashion Week Party for Designer Mossimo Giannulli - Inside at Area in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage for LaForce and Stevens)
John Stamos, Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli during Target Hosts LA Fashion Week Party for Designer Mossimo Giannulli - Inside at Area in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage for LaForce and Stevens)
Mossimo Giannulli and Lori Loughlin during Target Hosts LA Fashion Week Party for Designer Mossimo Giannulli at Area in Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage for LaForce and Stevens)
Lori Loughlin and Mossimo during Saks Fifth Avenues Unforgettable Evening Benefitting EIFs Womens Cancer Research Fund at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by Donato Sardella/WireImage for Entertainment Industry Foundation)
Lori Loughlin and Mossimo during 30th Anniversary Party for Hello Kitty Presented by SANRIO and Target - Pink Carpet at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage for Sanrio, Inc)
Mossimo Giannulli & Lori Loughlin during Mossimo's New Collection Celebration at Moomba in West Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by J. P. Aussenard/WireImage)
Lori Loughlin & Mossimo during Marc Anthony Pilots Jaguar's Tribute To Style - March 18, 2001 at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
381656 06: Designer Mossimo Giannulli with actress wife Lori Loughlin, left, and actress Valerie Bertinelli attend a party to launch the famed sportswear designer Mossimo Giannulli Collection November 9, 2000 at The Drive-In Studios in New York City. (Photo by George DeSota/Getty Images)
Mossimo Giannulli & Lori Loughlin during 14th Carousel of Hope Ball for Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes at Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Lori Loughlin & Mossimo during An Evening of Song & Spirit A Benefit For Gaian Yoga For Life at Private House in Bel Air, California, United States. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
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The couple pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including a recently added superseding indictment on conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering.

"They in no way felt they were money laundering," the source says. "They thought the money would be used for a donation and to benefit the school. Even so, this has been one of the toughest decisions of Lori‘s life."

The charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud provides for a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater. The charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering provides for a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $500,000 or twice the value of the property involved in the money laundering.

Ultimately, if convicted and sentenced to the maximum extent of the law, Loughlin could face up to 40 years in jail. But many experts agree that the chance of sentencing that severe is almost nonexistent.

However, the source tells ET that hearing the total amount of potential jail time she could be facing if convicted left the former When Calls the Heart star in tears.

"When Lori heard the number of years she could spend in prison she broke down crying. The thought of being separated from her loved ones for years brought her to her knees," the source says. "She has watched as the other families cut deals but her husband feels they are not guilty and should plead not guilty."

According to the source, the couple's friends are "incredibly worried" about their decision to plead not guilty.

"[Their friends] have explained to them that they cannot just plead ignorance," the source continues. "In the end, she trusts those who are advising her and somehow believes there is a chance she will go free."

Another source recently told ET that, up until the second superseding indictment, Loughlin didn't believe she would face the possibility of serving time in prison.

"Lori still believed in the end she would just get a slap on the wrist," the source claimed. "At this point she is getting complete clarity and she’s scared and in terrible shape." 

"The reality of this situation has finally hit her like a ton of bricks," the source added. "It wasn’t until she was faced with [the] additional [charge] that she saw the true ramifications." 

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Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin arrive at Boston courthouse
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Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin arrive at Boston courthouse
Actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, wearing green tie at left, leave the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019. Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 13 parents scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston Wednesday for the first time since they were charged last month in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. They were among 50 people - including coaches, powerful financiers, and entrepreneurs - charged in a brazen plot in which wealthy parents allegedly schemed to bribe sports coaches at top colleges to admit their children. Many of the parents allegedly paid to have someone else take the SAT or ACT exams for their children or correct their answers, guaranteeing them high scores. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Actress Lori Loughlin, in tan at center, leaves as her husband Mossimo Giannulli, in green tie at right, follows behind her outside the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019. Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 13 parents scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston Wednesday for the first time since they were charged last month in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. They were among 50 people - including coaches, powerful financiers, and entrepreneurs - charged in a brazen plot in which wealthy parents allegedly schemed to bribe sports coaches at top colleges to admit their children. Many of the parents allegedly paid to have someone else take the SAT or ACT exams for their children or correct their answers, guaranteeing them high scores. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Actress Lori Loughlin, front, and husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli, rear, depart federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Actress Felicity Huffman arrives at federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, to face charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Actress Lori Loughlin, in tan at right, and her husband Mossimo Giannulli, in green tie behind her, leave the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019. Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 13 parents scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston Wednesday for the first time since they were charged last month in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. They were among 50 people - including coaches, powerful financiers, and entrepreneurs - charged in a brazen plot in which wealthy parents allegedly schemed to bribe sports coaches at top colleges to admit their children. Many of the parents allegedly paid to have someone else take the SAT or ACT exams for their children or correct their answers, guaranteeing them high scores. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 3: Actress Felicity Huffman, center, leaves the John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston on April 3, 2019. Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among 13 parents scheduled to appear in federal court in Boston Wednesday for the first time since they were charged last month in a massive college admissions cheating scandal. They were among 50 people - including coaches, powerful financiers, and entrepreneurs - charged in a brazen plot in which wealthy parents allegedly schemed to bribe sports coaches at top colleges to admit their children. Many of the parents allegedly paid to have someone else take the SAT or ACT exams for their children or correct their answers, guaranteeing them high scores. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Actress Lori Loughlin, front, and husband, clothing designer Mossimo Giannulli, left, depart federal court in Boston on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, after facing charges in a nationwide college admissions bribery scandal. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
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