The 38-year-old single mother of 14 children was released on her own recognizance after arraignment in Los Angeles County Superior Court on three counts of welfare fraud.
She was ordered to report to the county's early disposition court on Feb. 3, where Deputy District Attorney Bill Clark said authorities will try to resolve the case without a trial.
"If she can pay the money back, that makes a big difference," he said.
Suleman, dressed in a dark blue pantsuit, her hair piled up in a bun, appeared before Judge Roberto Longoria for only a couple of minutes. She spoke just one word, a barely audible, "Yes," when the judge asked if she understood she was waiving her right to a preliminary hearing.
Immediately afterward Suleman, her attorney Arthur J. La Cilento and two other people quickly left the courtroom, escorted down a hallway by bailiffs who kept them from reporters.
Authorities say Suleman failed to disclose residuals from videos and money she was paid for personal appearances when she applied for welfare last year.
"She was running short on money. She went to the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services and asked for food stamps," Clark told reporters outside court. "And they gave them to her."
Soon after, he said, authorities got several calls from people reporting she was earning money during the time she was collecting the welfare.
While she might have qualified for some public assistance during that time, he said, authorities calculated that she collected $16,000 more than she should have and they want that back.
"That's taxpayer money," he said.
She is charged with one count of aid by misrepresentation and two counts of perjury by false application. If convicted, she could face five years and eight months in prison.
But Clark indicated it was unlikely she would face that much, if any, time behind bars.
"She's got 14 children. We'll try and work out a deal for her," he said.
Suleman, whose real name is Natalie Denise Suleman, shot to fame on Jan. 26, 2009, when she gave birth at a Southern California hospital to eight children, who quickly became the world's longest-surviving octuplets.
Like her six older children, they were all conceived by in-vitro fertilization. She has never disclosed the identity of the father.
After learning that her physician had actually implanted 12 embryos in her womb, the state Medical Board revoked his license.
Almost from the beginning, she struggled to support the additional children. She defaulted on payments on a house she bought in 2010, and the lender foreclosed.
She has found ways to make money: doing a porn video, posing topless for various publications, dancing in a Florida strip club and taking part in so-called celebrity boxing matches. One of her boxing opponents was Amy Fisher, the former "Long Island Lolita" who was 17 when she shot her much older lover's wife in the face in 1992.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals paid Suleman $5,000 and gave her a month's supply of vegetarian hot dogs and hamburgers in 2010 for endorsing birth control for dogs and cats.