Joe and Teresa Giudice Charged with Fraud: What Does This Mean for 'RHONJ'?

The reality stars could face up to 50 years in prison. (Can you imagine Teresa in an orange jumpsuit?)

No one's going to accuse Teresa Giudice of manufacturing drama for TV ratings this year. The table-flipping star of The Real Housewives of New Jersey (Bravo, Sundays, 8 p.m. ET) is in a great deal of all-too-real legal trouble right now, and it's the kind that could lead to many years in jail. 

Teresa, 41, and her husband, Joe Giudice, 43, have been indicted on 39 counts of fraud, including conspiracy to defraud lenders and illegally obtain mortgages, according to NJ.com. If proven guilty, they could each receive dozens of years in prison -- up to 50 years. They were released on July 30 on $500,00 bail for each of them and ordered to turn in their passports and not travel anywhere except for the states of New York and New Jersey.

RHONJ viewers know the expensively dressed and coifed Teresa as a scheming instigator who's made many enemies over the show's five seasons -- including that of her brother, Joe Gorga and his wife, Melissa. (Last season, Teresa famously insinuated the Melissa is a former stripper, an idea that Melissa has never quite lived down.) As for Joe Giudice, fans know him as a stocky, New Jersey "tough guy" aspirant -- a combination of Tony Soprano and Jersey Shore's The Situation. Despite clear signs (to viewers, anyway) that he cheats on her, Teresa remains closely allied with her husband and father of her four young daughters. And she's not changing course now. 

About an hour after the charges were announced on Monday, Teresa released a statement through her lawyer and on Twitter. “Today is a most difficult day for our family," she said. "I support Joe and, as a wonderful husband and father, I know he wants only the best for our lovely daughters and me. I am committed to my family and intend to maintain our lives in the best way possible, which includes continuing my career." 

Yes, about that. Her career. How will a complicated court battle and possible jail time affect RHONJ and Teresa's role in it? Clearly she's optimistic that these charges won't prove too inconvenient. "I am hopeful that we will resolve this matter with the government as quickly as possible," she said. "Thank you all for your kind wishes, prayers and support." 

If kind wishes and prayers don't prove effective, and the Giudices do land behind bars, the show could (and probably would) continue on without her. (Caroline Manzo and Jaqueline Laurita can easily rise to the challenge of drama instigation.) But an even better outcome, for viewers? Bravo could continue to chronicle Teresa's fabulous life -- as long as she ends up in a minimum security, white collar detention center that allows that sort of thing. 

Now that would be an interesting social experiment. Teresa's not exactly a villain, but she's emblematic of many of today's materialistic reality stars who live lavishly for TV cameras. Would her hunger for fame overpower her desire to appear ever-gorgeous and extravagant? Would she allow a production crew to trail her if she were wearing a jumpsuit and eating prison food? 

You bet she would. With the legal fees she's facing, she's going to need that $600 million paycheck from Bravo.  

Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.

WATCH: 'RHONJ' Star Heads to Court, Facing 50 Years in Prison

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