What Is Tax Evasion? Why Todd and Julie Chrisley Are Heading to Prison

Reality TV stars Todd and Julie Chrisley have each received lengthy prison sentences, five months after being found guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud.

On Monday, a federal judge sentenced Todd Chrisley, 54, to 12 years behind bars and three years of supervised release, while Julie Chrisley, 49, received a seven-year prison sentence, plus three years of supervised release.

(L-R) Todd and Julie Chrisley are pictured on April 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. The TV personalities have received lengthy prison sentences are being found guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud.
Kevin Mazur/ACMA2017/Getty Images for ACM

Prosecutors said the stars of USA Network’s Chrisley Knows Best took more than $36 million in fraudulent bank loans to fund their extravagant lifestyle. Both were in June found guilty on charges of bank fraud, tax fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

Julie Chrisley was also found guilty of wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges, while the couple’s former accountant, Peter Tarantino, was convicted on charges related to filing fraudulent tax returns on their behalf. Tarantino, 60, was sentenced to three years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

“Over the course of a decade, the defendants defrauded banks out of tens of millions of dollars while evading payment of their federal income taxes,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan in a statement shared by the Department of Justice.

“Their lengthy sentences reflect the magnitude of their criminal scheme and should serve as a warning to others tempted to exploit our nation’s community banking system for unlawful personal gain.”

What Is Tax Evasion?

According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), tax evasion is the illegal activity of failing to pay—or deliberately underpaying—taxes owed to the government.

One method used to evade the payment of taxes is an individual or business failing to report all or some of their income. For example, income earned through illegal means is often not reported to the IRS.

In other instances, people could fail to report income through legal means, where the payments may be paid in cash and are therefore more difficult to track.

Per the IRS, those who fail to pay what officials say they owe stand to receive an assessed penalty, as well as the collection of back taxes.

While the IRS does not commonly pursue criminal tax-evasion cases against many people, the penalty for those whose activities have been deemed to be illegal can mean harsh penalties and possible jail time.

The Allegations

According to U.S. Attorney Buchanan and information that prosecutors presented in court, the Chrisleys “conspired to defraud community banks” in the Atlanta area out of more than $36 million in personal loans before they became reality TV stars.

Prosecutors said that the couple submitted false statements and audit reports to banks with the aid of their former business partner.

The couple used the money on “luxury cars, designer clothes, real estate, and travel,” according to prosecutors, as well as using new fraudulent loans to pay back debts from their older loans. Todd Chrisley then filed for bankruptcy, and the couple “walked away” from $20 million in remaining loans.

Chrisley Knows Best began to air around the same time as the couple’s bankruptcy proceedings. Prosecutors said that the Chrisleys “conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service” alongside Tarantino as they made “millions” from the series, paying no taxes between 2013 and 2016, despite Todd Chrisley falsely claiming on a radio show to have paid up to $1 million in taxes per year.

Julie Chrisley was accused of forging financial documents to secure a luxury rental house in Los Angeles as the bankruptcy was moving forward. After securing a lease, the Chrisleys then allegedly failed to pay their rent and were eventually evicted.

The couple were first indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2019, while a new indictment was filed this February. In October 2019, they were cleared of evading $2 million in Georgia state taxes.

District Judge Eleanor Ross allowed the couple to remain free on bond after the conviction was read in June, with restrictions that included home detention and location monitoring. Tarantino was also allowed to remain free on bond.

“As this sentencing proves, when you lie, cheat, and steal, justice is blind to your fame, fortune, and position,” said Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta on Monday. “The FBI is proud to work with our law enforcement partners at the IRS and the U.S. Attorney’s office to pursue and prosecute individuals that are driven by greed to evade the law.”

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