The government has charged 34 parents in the scandal. The sentencing memo included recommendations for 11 of the 15 who have pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy for paying Singer to get their kids into elite schools from Stanford to Yale. The charge carries a maximum term of 20 years in prison, though the federal guidelines can bring that number down significantly for parents who acknowledge their crime, have a clean record and meet other criteria.

That leaves 19 parents who chose not to seek plea deals, were indicted on money-laundering charges and are fighting it out. Singer, who has admitted to leading the sprawling operation out of his once legitimate college-counseling firm, The Key, pleaded guilty to racketeering and is cooperating in the prosecution.

As the U.S. has laid out the scheme, the Newport Beach, California, college admissions strategist took thousands of dollars from affluent clients to fix their children’s entrance exam scores. Upping the ante, the government says, he funneled through a charity he’d set up hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for college athletic coaches to put the kids on recruiting rosters, assuring them of places in elite schools across the country, including the University of Southern California and Georgetown University. None of the colleges or students have been charged.

Some of the proposed punishments in the prosecutors’ memo are less severe than the plea agreements called for, while others are the same. The longest prison sentence the government is seeking for the 11 parents is 15 months, for Agustin Huneeus, who spent $300,000 on the racket, and Stephen Semprevivo, who spent $400,000, according to prosecutors. Their plea deals called for 21 to 27 months each.

In a plea deal worked out just weeks after Huffman was charged in March, prosecutors said they’d recommend she serve four to 10 months.

Lawyers for the parents who have proclaimed their innocence of the charges see a weak case. Some have signaled they will rely on a 1946 Supreme Court case, Kotteakos v. U.S., in which the government’s fatal flaw was to have charged a single conspiracy -- as it has in the college scandal -- when the alleged conspirators knew the kingpin but not one another.

Others argue they wrote checks to Singer’s charitable foundation in good faith, as it was established to provide educational opportunities to disadvantaged kids. Still others will hold up the long tradition of prestigious universities giving special attention to the children of generous donors, in full compliance with the law. And some will mount all three defenses, or others.

What Simon, the Phillips Nizer partner, sees in the sentencing memo for the parents who made plea deals is the government, six months out from its dramatic revelation of the charges, getting real.

Of Huffman, one of the first to plead guilty, he said, “If they come to court demanding a long sentence, the judge is going to come down on them. Recognizing that, they’re trying to get a little pound of flesh -- a month in jail, here -- so they can say they’re tough, but also trying to save face in court.”

Prosecutors’ insistence on prison time has the government at odds with its own Probation and Pretrial Services office, which has advised against increasing parents’ sentences based on alleged financial harm to the colleges or on the size of the bribes. On Tuesday, Talwani will hold an unusual public hearing on the issue.