MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Jan Gangelhoff turned white and started shaking when she first learned federal prosecutors threatened to charge her with a felony in the University of Minnesota academic fraud scandal, according to one of her lawyers.
"I didn't think she was going to be able to walk out of the office," said attorney Jim Lord, who told her the news.
It was first of many threats Gangelhoff claims were made by prosecutors investigating her admission that she wrote more than 400 pieces of course work for 20 basketball players.
She told the Star Tribune in an interview last week that she pleaded guilty to a felony in the academic cheating scandal because federal prosecutors said that if she didn't, they'd charge her with 20 felonies and send her to prison.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said in a separate interview that he threw out her plea agreement because it was not specific enough and gave him no discretion to hand down a stronger or lighter sentence.
Magnuson's decision in September 2000 caught everyone, including the Justice Department, off guard.
Under the plea, Gangelhoff admitted to writing papers for one of the players. She was to get probation but would still have been considered a felon.
The plea "did not give sufficient specificity to the who, what, when and where that was needed in the charge," Magnuson said in an interview.
"On the other hand, I was being handed a plea agreement that convicted a person of a felony but totally tied my hands as to the penalty that would be involved, and I believe that interfered with my discretionary role as a judge."
Joe Walker, a Justice Department lawyer in Washington who worked on the case, has declined to comment on the department's investigation of the scandal.
The federal inquiry began three years ago after allegations of academic misconduct came to light. Attorneys for the three people said to have been the targets of the investigation, including Gangelhoff, were notified by the Justice Department last week that they won't be charged.
Gangelhoff said that after Magnuson threw out the plea, she, her attorneys and federal prosecutors were stunned. After that, she and her defense team remained silent. She said prosecutors threatened to let a judge send her to prison if they spoke to the media. Until last week, they had not spoken to the media since the inquiry began.
After Magnuson threw the plea out, prosecutors met with Gangelhoff's attorneys, Jim Lord and Fred Bruno.
"They wanted to know if Jim and Fred would help them write the agreement so that Magnuson would accept it, and of course, they said no," Gangelhoff said. "They wanted my lawyers to help them convict me. That's how brazen they are. It's just unbelievable."
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