ATLANTA — The federal government is going hard after reality stars Todd and Julie Chrisley, accusing them of defrauding millions from banks using falsified documents and then actively evading taxes.
“They make up documents and live like they can seek and get whatever they want, when they want,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Annalese Peters said Tuesday during opening statements of the government’s jury trial against the “Chrisley Knows Best” stars. The two face charges involving alleged bank fraud and tax evasion. The trial, held at the Richard B. Russell Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in downtown Atlanta, is expected to last several weeks.
Peters alleged the Chrisleys “swindled” at least $30 million from community banks by inflating their net worth to get loans, purposely targeting smaller banks that did less due diligence than larger ones. Then Todd Chrisley filed for bankruptcy in 2012, erasing $20 million in loan debt. Peters alleged they then actively hid millions they made from the reality show, which began in 2014, as well as $500,000 in taxes Todd owed in 2009.
7C’s Productions, a company the Chrisleys created after the reality show began, was entirely under Julie’s name, Peters said, so the IRS couldn’t access income to reduce the $500,000 Todd owed from 2009.
Todd Chrisley, 53, seated with his attorneys, shook his head several times while Peters was speaking and avoided looking at her. Julie, 49, in a seat behind her husband, exhibited no expressions.
The alleged bank fraud happened between 2007 and 2012, according to the original federal government’s indictment in 2019. It said they actively evaded taxes going back to 2009.
The Chrisleys were living in metro Atlanta during most of the alleged illegal activity but moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016.
Bruce H. Morris, an attorney representing Todd Chrisley, said in his opening statement that the Chrisleys were victims of a man named Mark Braddock, who handled his company, Chrisley Asset Management, and did all the defrauding without the couple’s knowledge until they fired him in 2012.
Braddock then went to the U.S. attorney’s office and received federal immunity in exchange for evidence against the Chrisleys, he said.
Morris painted Braddock as an untrustworthy opportunist who took advantage of a naively trusting Todd. Todd, he noted, didn’t even graduate high school and was quietly flipping houses one by one until Braddock helped him gain clients like Fannie Mae and rake in millions. Braddock, he said, then created a secret fund and stole money from Chrisley Asset Management. Chrisley, in an Instagram post in 2019, said Braddock also bugged their phones and threatened other employees with violence if they spoke of his actions.
“He wanted to be like Todd,” Morris said. “He took control of Todd’s business. He forged Todd’s signature on many documents. He impersonated Todd and used his personal passwords.”
Stephen Friedberg, who represents Todd’s wife Julie, said she was also ignorant of whatever Braddock was doing with their money. “Julie never dealt with any bank or bank officer on any of the transactions,” he said.
She was also charged with “wire fraud” for sending alleged false bank statements and a credit report to rent a home in California for $13,000 a month in 2014. Friedberg said a former employee was responsible for those documents and Julie didn’t know about it. He also said a later “obstruction of justice” charge was just an “honest mistake” she actively tried to fix.
Both Friedberg and Morris said the Chrisleys made good-faith efforts to reduce their tax load and actually did pay some back over time. They also said the production company they created wasn’t a way to hide taxes but something the “Chrisley Knows Best” producers Maverick TV and All3Media America required them to do after they began taping the TV show.
Given the complexity of the case, the trial could last three to four weeks.
The state of Georgia also investigated possible tax evasion against the Chrisleys. In 2019, a state judge cleared the couple of the charges, and the Chrisleys settled the case for just under $150,000.
In a statement at the time, Todd said, “Julie and I knew all along that we had done nothing wrong and that when the facts all came out, we would be fine. We’re just glad that the Department of Revenue was willing to keep an open mind and look at all the evidence.”
“Chrisley Knows Best,” a comedic look at the lives of the Chrisley family that Julie Christy’s attorney Friedberg said is a blend of scripted and unscripted scenes, was an instant hit for USA Network when it debuted in 2014 and was recently renewed for a 10th season. An E! spinoff “Growing Up Chrisley,” featuring two Chrisley kids, Chase and Savannah, living in Los Angeles, was just renewed for a fourth season. Both Chase and Savannah were in the courtroom to support their parents on Tuesday.
E! also recently announced a new dating show “Love Limo,” hosted by Todd Chrisley.
———©2022 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.