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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Chrisley Knows Best’ reality TV stars convicted of fraud, tax evasion

By Jaclyn Peiser The Washington Post

In the 2014 pilot episode for USA Network’s “Chrisley Knows Best,” Todd and Julie Chrisley showed off their 30,000-square-foot home in a wealthy neighborhood north of Atlanta. The couple came from humble beginnings, Todd said, and made their fortune in real estate.

“In a year, we probably spend $300,000, sometimes more, just on clothing,” Todd said.

But prosecutors say the couple earned most of their money through fraudulent means – in the years leading up to their first season, the Chrisleys had been conspiring to defraud banks of more than $30 million in loans, according to a criminal case filed against them in 2019.

A federal jury on Tuesday found the couple guilty of fraud and tax evasion. Julie was also found guilty of wire fraud and obstruction of justice. She and her husband each face up to 30 years in prison.

Their accountant, Peter Tarantino, was also found guilty of several tax crimes, including conspiring to defraud the IRS.

“As today’s outcome shows, when you lie, cheat and steal, justice is blind as to your fame, your fortune, and your position,” Keri Farley, special agent in charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a news release.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Bruce Morris, one of Todd’s attorneys, said the couple is “disappointed in the verdict” and is planning to appeal the decision. Attorneys for Tarantino did not immediately respond to the Washington Post’s request for comment early Wednesday.

On their long-running reality series, the Chrisleys and their five children entertained viewers with their quirky family dynamics and high jinks. The show highlights their extravagant lifestyle, Todd’s strict work ethic and his overbearing parenting style.

The show is USA Network’s most-watched current original series, according to its parent company NBCUniversal, and is popular among the 18-49 demographic. It was picked up for a 10th season last month, and the ninth season will begin airing June 23. The network did not immediately respond to the Post’s request for comment.

NBCUniversal also last month renewed for a fourth season a spinoff show on Peacock featuring two of the Chrisley children and greenlit a new dating show on E! hosted by Todd.

According to prosecutors, the Chrisleys defrauded financial institutions over about a five-year period starting around 2007. On several occasions, the couple presented banks with false documents, such as “fabricated bank statements listing inflated account balances, personal financial statements containing false information about available funds, false invoices, and false audit paperwork,” court records state.

In 2007, Todd submitted false paperwork to Merrill Lynch that showed he had $4 million with the bank, despite the Chrisleys not actually having an account at the time, according to court documents.

“As a result of false representations like these, a number of banks issued the conspirators millions of dollars in loans, much of which Todd and Julie Chrisley used for their own personal benefit,” records add.

The couple used the money to buy designer clothes, real estate and luxury cars and to fund their travels, prosecutors said. They also used the loans to pay off existing debts, according to court records. The Chrisleys filed for bankruptcy in 2012 while pocketing $20 million they received from the fraudulently obtained loans, prosecutors said.

Julie continued producing manufactured documents during their bankruptcy proceedings. In 2014, she presented false financial documents to a real estate agent so she could rent a house in Los Angeles, according to court records.

“Numbers had been physically cut out from one document and then glued or taped onto the account statement to make it appear that the account had sufficient funds on deposit,” the documents state.

The family was evicted from the home in L.A. for failing to pay rent, prosecutors said.

Todd and Julie, along with their accountant, began conspiring to defraud the IRS after the family started earning millions from their reality show, prosecutors said. Owing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IRS for his 2009 taxes, Todd opened a corporate account in Julie’s name called 7C’s Productions. Millions of dollars were deposited into the account to protect Todd from having to pay the money he owed the government, according to court records.

“All the while, Todd Chrisley operated the loan-out company behind the scenes and controlled the company’s purse strings,” prosecutors said.

The couple did not file taxes from 2013 to 2016, according to prosecutors. In 2015 and 2016, Tarantino filed tax returns “omitting all information about 7C’s Productions’ revenue and distributions,” court documents say, which implied that the company had not turned a profit those years. Tarantino was ultimately convicted of filing the false documents.

Tarantino and the Chrisleys will be sentenced on Oct. 6.