NEWARK, N.J. — A star of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” and her husband were released on $500,000 bond apiece after making initial court appearances today on federal fraud charges.
Teresa Giudice and her husband, Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice, were ordered to surrender their passports and to restrict their travels to New Jersey and New York. Joe Giudice, an Italian citizen, could be deported if convicted.
The Giudices, who rose to fame by showcasing their lavish lifestyle on the Bravo reality TV show, were indicted Monday on bank and bankruptcy fraud charges, among other counts. Joe Giudice is also charged with failing to file tax returns from 2004 to 2008.
The couple is accused of exaggerating their income while applying for loans before their show debuted in 2009, then hiding their fortunes in a bankruptcy filing after their first season aired.
The couple did not enter pleas during a brief appearance in a courtroom packed with media and spectators. They will be arraigned Aug. 14. Their attorneys said both will plead not guilty.
“The investigation went on for a pretty long time and we are confident we have enough evidence to convict the defendants beyond a reasonable doubt,” U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said after the proceeding.
The couple were charged in a 39-count indictment with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements on loan applications and bankruptcy fraud. Both face hundreds of years in prison and millions of dollars in fines if convicted, but federal sentencing guidelines would greatly reduce the penalties, Fishman said.
Teresa Giudice’s attorney, Henry Klingeman, said he believes the government is prosecuting the couple because of their celebrity.
“They’re certainly being prosecuted because of their association with the show,” Klingeman told reporters outside court after the Giudices silently made their way through a pack of media to a waiting black SUV.
Authorities allege the couple submitted fraudulent mortgage and other loan applications from 2001 to 2008, a year before their show debuted. Prosecutors said the couple submitted fake W-2s, tax returns and bank account information to lenders.
Prosecutors allege the Giudices received about $4.6 million in mortgages, withdrawals from home equity lines of credit and construction loans.
Joe Giudice, an entrepreneur, also failed to file tax returns for the years 2004 through 2008, when he is alleged to have earned nearly $1 million, prosecutors said. During that time his income allegedly fluctuated wildly; the indictment states he made $323,481 in 2005 and $26,194 in 2006.
The couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, claiming they owed $11 million, including $2.2 million in mortgages, $13,000 to Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, and nearly $12,000 to a fertility clinic.
Joe Giudice is also facing charges in Passaic County that he used his brother’s identity to obtain a driver’s license, presenting his marriage and birth certificates. His lawyer, Miles Feinstein, rejected a plea deal in April.
“In Passaic County, where I represent him, I feel that because of his celebrity status he’s being treated differently than others are for the same offense,” said Feinstein, who did not comment on the federal case.
Teresa Giudice has parlayed her fame into cookbooks, a line of ready-made bellinis and “Skinny Italian,” a specialty food line.
On the show, she is known for her expensive tastes and combative relationship with her brother and sister-in-law. But Klingeman noted that the show helps support the couple and their four children.
“While it’s called reality TV,” Klingeman said, “I’m not sure everything you see on the show is real.”
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