Todd and Julie Chrisley are on trial for bank fraud and tax evasion.
Their lawyer admitted in court that much of what is said on their reality show isn’t, in fact, real.
The love between members of the family, though, is authentic, he said.
In a 2017 radio interview, TV personality Todd Chrisley told a reporter that he paid the federal government over a $1 million a year in taxes, but the reality was he “hadn’t paid a dime” in years, Assistant US Attorney Annalise Peters told an Atlanta federal jury Tuesday.
Todd and Julie Chrisley, the stars of the reality series “Chrisley Knows Best,” face charges of evading taxes and operating a conspiracy defrauding banks to make it look like they were wealthier than they were to live an extravagant lifestyle they couldn’t afford. The couple denies the charges.
Todd Chrisley’s lawyer said that his statement to that reporter in 2017 was just an act. That, like much of what is said on the “reality show,” wasn’t true, Attorney Bruce Morris said in his opening statement.
“Some of it is real, and some of it is not,” he added.
The closeness of the tight-knit “outrageous” family is authentic, Morris said, adding that USA Network “loves” the series and just renewed it for a 10th season.
Donning a blue suit, Todd Chrisley sat next to Morris at a table in a 17th floor Atlanta federal courtroom. Julie Chrisley sat at a table behind him with her attorneys.
Their two children — Chase and Savannah — watched the trial in the courtroom with members of the public.
‘It’s all sizzle’
In one episode of “Chrisley Knows Best,” Todd Chrisley said that the family spends about $300,000 a year on clothes.
That, Morris said, was another lie.
“He was in bankruptcy at the time,” Morris told the 16-person jury Tuesday. “It’s all part of the sizzle. It’s all part of the show. It’s all part of the act.”
“Chrisley Knows Best” follows the boisterous couple who made a living flipping houses in Atlanta.
The spin-off show, “Growing Up Chrisley,” which follows the couple’s children Chase and Savannah — who were in the courtroom Tuesday — is on its fourth season.
Like Morris, Julie Chrisley’s attorney said that the family dedication and affection shown on TV are not made up.
Attorney Stephen Friedberg told the jury that Julie Chrisley’s whole life revolves around her family. Friedberg said he calls his client Elmer, “because she is the glue that holds the family together.”
Growing up in Seneca, South Carolina, Julie Chrisley started cleaning offices with her grandmother at the age of 12. When she married Todd Chrisley in 1996, she became like a mother to his two children — eventually adopting one of them — before having three of their own, he said.
While selling real estate, she continued to cook every meal for the family and assist the children with any issues they were going through, such as substance use or psychiatric disorders, Friedberg told the jury.
When she was going through treatment for breast cancer in 2013, she continued like “nothing changed” Friedberg said.
Prosecutors didn’t dispute the family dynamics in their opening, but rather their family wealth. They said that between 2007 and 2012, just before the Chrisleys were first given their show, they created fake documents that made it look like they had far more money than they did.
They submitted them to dozens of Atlanta community banks to get personal loans, Assistant US Attorney Annalise Peters said.
Altogether, they took out $30 million in loans — much of which they used to buy luxury cars and designer cars, prosecutors say. Then, in 2012, Todd Chrisley declared bankruptcy, walking away from $20 million in unpaid loans. From then on, the couple — and their accountant — schemed to hide their $6 million income from the reality show so the IRS couldn’t retrieve $500,000 Todd Chrisley owed on his 2009 taxes, prosecutors said.
Morris, though, alleged that the fraud was committed by a vengeful former employee who eventually reported the couple to the FBI.
The federal trial will continue Wednesday with testimony from an IRS agent.
It is expected to last four weeks.
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