Charlie Sheen

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When Charlie Sheen chose to go public with the HIV-positive diagnosis he's been living with for at least three years, he said that he hoped by doing so he would no longer be on the hook to the various unnamed people he's been paying in exchange for their silence.

With the actor's long-term financial security up in the air, depending on how many of his millions he managed to hang onto over the years, is there any chance that he can get some of that hush money—he says upward of $10 million—back?

After Sheen's revealing Today interview on Tuesday, the first question on many minds was whether he could be subject to criminal charges if he failed to disclose his status to a partner before engaging in sexual activity.

The answer is yes, should the L.A. District Attorney's Office investigate and "if these women come forward and say that 'I had sex with Charlie Sheen and he didn't tell me he was HIV-positive before I had sex with him,'" attorney Mari Fagel explained to E! News this week. "Then there could be criminal charges against Charlie Sheen. The worst-case scenario is he could be facing a felony charge which has a maximum punishment of eight years in prison."

She added, "The more likely scenario is he would be charged with a misdemeanor and he would be facing a six-month sentence and a thousand-dollar fine."

Charlie Sheen

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The unknowing partner does not have to have been infected to be considered a victim. Willfully exposing someone to HIV is a violation of a California health code that states "any person afflicted with any contagious, infectious, or communicable disease who willfully exposes himself or herself to another person" is guilty of a misdemeanor.

Sheen told Today's Matt Lauer that he absolutely told all potential partners about his HIV-positive status. Onetime girlfriend Bree Olson said on The Howard Stern Show yesterday that she had no idea, but Sheen's manager explained that, as far as the actor knew, he was HIV-negative when he was involved with Olson. She reiterated via Twitter, meanwhile, that she has tested negative.

Bree Olson, Charlie Sheen

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But even if there never is a criminal investigation, "nothing can prevent these women from filing a lawsuit against Charlie Sheen," Fagel says.

"Even if there was a confidentiality agreement that these women signed, that only goes so far. There are reports that say Sheen made these women sign arbitration agreements, which is basically a contract that these women signed [stating] that, if they do file a lawsuit, it would be litigated…in front of a single neutral arbitrator. Instead of being exposed to all of the drama and circus that comes with a jury trial, it would be an arbitration."

A source tells E! News that some people Sheen was in contact with said they were asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but the source maintains it was unenforceable because it was a contract covering an unlawful purpose. Prostitution is illegal in most states and Sheen acknowledged in his interview with Lauer that he at times hired prostitutes, some of whom turned around and demanded money to keep quiet.

"What people forget is that's money they're taking from my children," Sheen said to Lauer regarding his decision to pay for people's silence. "They think it's just me, but I've got five kids and a granddaughter...For some reason I trusted them. They were deep in my inner circle, and I thought they could be helpful." Instead, he added, "My trust turned to their treason."

By speaking out, "I think I release myself from this prison today."

So if Sheen was indeed the victim of a "shakedown," as he said, Fagel (who does not represent Sheen) tells us that under California law those alleged perpetrators could be charged with extortion.

"By threatening to expose his secret, by threatening to expose that he's HIV-positive and saying, 'If you don't give me x amount of money I'm going to tell the world that you're HIV-positive,' is a crime," the attorney says. "So [prosecutors] have to prove that these women were threatening Charlie Sheen for money by threatening to expose his HIV status and that in return Charlie Sheen consented to giving them money because of that threat.

"While these women, for extortion, could be facing being locked up behind bars, it's also restitution. Whenever there is a victim who has given up their money because of a threat like this, there would be an order where these women, these criminal defendants, would have to return the money that they were paid under this scenario."

The story took an unforeseen twist when it was revealed that a Sony studio exec seemingly mentioned Sheen's HIV-positive status back in a March 2014 email—which was duly leaked online during the massive Sony hack and now lives on Wikileaks.

"I think I will win the 90/10 bet on the over under on this …it's hard to to be a drug addict and be HIV positive and do 40 eps a year," read the email, which included a link to a TV Week story about Sheen on the Anger Management set, per the Washington Post.

So while Sheen says now that he was keeping his secret through whatever means necessary, it sounds as though those in the know—or those who, worse yet, were just speculating—were discussing it at will.

As for the chance of seeing the return of any money he doled out in order to keep his very personal issue private, Fagel calls that a "best-case scenario."

"He could get a restitution order for these women for the money he's given them," she says. "The best-case scenario for Charlie Sheen, if these women were to be prosecuted and convicted of extortion, is that he gets justice in the end."

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