Teresa Giudice Sentenced to Prison for 15 Months

10/2/2014 1:49 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
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Teresa Giudice has just been sentenced to prison for 15 months ... she was hysterical, but it could have been a lot worse for her.

She will begin serving the sentence January 5.  She'll complete her sentence and then Joe will begin his.

Teresa made a plea to the judge to give her house arrest instead of time behind bars so she could care for her kids. Her husband Joe will spend 41 months behind bars, and she says their 4 kids will have to be split up among their relatives if they both serve.

But the judge said the sentences would be staggered, so when one is in prison, the other can perform parental duties.

Before sentencing ... Teresa begged the judge for leniency, saying she is in a deep depression and her life is now ruined.  She says all she cares about is her kids and she has no interest anymore in TV shows.

She also said she didn't care about handbags ... a reference to the fact that she was photographed last month with a really expensive bag when she was monkeying around with bankruptcy.

The judge wasn't buying it, saying ... "I need to send a message. In the eyes of the law it doesn't matter who you are. There are consequences to pay."

Both Teresa and Joe were convicted of wire and bankruptcy fraud. According to the sentencing guidelines, Teresa should have received a sentences of 21 - 27 months.  Prosecutors recommended 21 -- saying if the judge wasn't hard it would show being famous counts.  Nonetheless the judge went way more lenient.