Reality TV’s Chrisleys get hefty sentences in fraud case: NPR
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ATLANTA — Reality TV stars Todd and Julie Chrisley were sentenced Monday to lengthy prison terms after being found guilty earlier this year on charges of bank fraud and tax evasion.
US District Judge Eleanor Ross in Atlanta sentenced Todd Chrisley to 12 years in prison, while Julie Chrisley was sentenced to seven years behind bars, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Atlanta. Each must serve three years of supervised release thereafter, and Ross also ordered them to pay restitution in an amount to be determined later.
The Chrisleys rose to fame with their show “Chrisley Knows Best,” which follows their close-knit and rowdy family. Federal prosecutors said the couple engaged in an extensive bank fraud scheme and then hid their wealth from tax authorities while flaunting their lavish lifestyle.
“The Chrisleys built an empire based on the lie that their wealth came from dedication and hard work,” prosecutors wrote in a pre-sentence filing. “The unanimous jury verdict sets the record straight: Todd and Julie Chrisley are career crooks who have made their living by jumping from one fraudulent scheme to another, lying to banks, harassing salespeople and dodging taxes around every corner.”
Lawyers for Todd Chrisley, 54, had argued in a court filing that he should face no more than nine years in prison. Lawyers for Julie Chrisley, 49, said a reasonable sentence for her would be probation with special terms and no jail time.
The Chrisleys were convicted in June of bank fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to defraud the IRS. Julie Chrisley was also convicted of wire fraud and obstruction of justice.
Peter Tarantino, 60, an accountant hired by the couple, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the IRS and willfully file false tax returns. He was sentenced on Monday to three years in prison followed by three years of probation.
Prosecutors said the Chrisleys submitted false documents to the banks and managed to obtain more than $30 million in fraudulent loans. Once this scheme fell apart, they waived their responsibility to repay the loans when Todd Chrisley declared bankruptcy. While bankrupt, they launched their reality show and “flaunted their wealth and lifestyle to the American public,” prosecutors wrote, then hid the millions they had made from IRS issue.
The Chrisleys also submitted a forged document to a grand jury investigating their crimes, then convinced friends and family to lie under oath during their trial, prosecutors argued. Neither showed remorse and instead blamed others for their criminal conduct, prosecutors wrote.
“The Chrisleys are unique given the varied and wide scope of their fraudulent conduct and the extent to which they engaged in fraudulent and obstructive behavior over an extended period of time,” prosecutors said.
Lawyers for Todd Chrisley said in a filing that the government never produced evidence that it intended to defraud the banks and that the calculated loss amount was incorrect. They also noted that the offenses were committed a long time ago and said he had no serious criminal history and had medical conditions which “would make imprisonment disproportionately harsh”.
His lawyers had also submitted letters from friends and business associates which show “a history of good deeds and efforts to help others”. The people who rely on Chrisley – including his mother and the many people employed by his TV shows – will be harmed while he is in jail, they argued.
They urged the judge to give him a prison sentence below the recommended range, followed by supervised release and restitution.
Julie Chrisley’s lawyers have argued that she played a minimal role in the conspiracy and was not involved when the loans mentioned in the sentencing documents were obtained. She has no previous convictions, is an asset to her community and has “extraordinary family obligations”, her lawyers wrote, as they sought a sentence of probation, restitution and community service.
The Chrisleys have three children together, including a 16-year-old, and also have full custody of Todd Chrisley’s son’s 10-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. Julie Chrisley is the primary caregiver for her ailing mother-in-law, according to the filing.
Her attorneys also submitted letters from character witnesses describing her as “hardworking, unwaveringly selfless, devoted to family and friends, highly respected by all who know her, and strong in character.”