TV

‘Dance Moms’ star gets year in prison for fraud

PITTSBURGH — Former “Dance Moms” reality TV star Abby Lee Miller was sentenced Tuesday to a year and a day in prison for hiding $775,000 worth of income and bringing $120,000 worth of Australian currency into the U.S. without reporting it.

U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti also fined Miller $40,000 — on top of the $120,000 in currency she’s forfeiting as part of guilty pleas entered last year — and ordered her to spend two years on probation after prison.

Miller, 51, filed for bankruptcy, just as her star was rising in late 2010, after defaulting on a $245,000 Florida condominium mortgage and a $96,000 mortgage on her Abby Lee Dance Company studio in Penn Hills, a Pittsburgh suburb.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci told the judge that Miller went from being a “dance mom in the bankruptcy case to dance con” by hiding her income.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Agresti nearly approved a plan to let Miller repay her creditors at lower interest rates and longer terms before he saw her on TV one night and figured she must be making far more than the $8,899 in monthly income she initially declared. It’s a crime to deceive a bankruptcy judge about one’s income and assets because that information is used to determine how much and how soon creditors will receive in the court-ordered repayment plan.

Miller eventually coughed up $288,000 in TV income she didn’t initially report in 2012, then federal investigators found she’d hidden nearly $550,000 more from personal appearances, dance sessions and merchandise sales.

Defense attorney Robert Ridge asked the judge to not hold Miller’s celebrity against her, saying Miller “was ill-equipped to deal with the brand that she became.”

The “Dance Moms” star was known for her brash behavior and pursuit of perfectionism from her dance students. The show followed a class of Miller’s elite students and the perilous relationship she has with the girls’ mothers. Critics of “Dance Moms” accused Miller of being emotionally abusive toward the girls, and many episodes show her students dissolving into tears after a harsh critique.

Miller announced in March that she was leaving the show. She’s now working out of a dance studio near Los Angeles, and Conti agreed to recommend that federal prison officials let her serve her sentence as close to her new business base of operations as possible. Miller must report to prison in a few weeks.

Ridge told the judge that Miller accidentally became famous when she let TV producers use her studio for a show about young dancers, only to have the producers center the show on Miller after her fiery encounter with an angry parent.

Conti told Miller that the prison sentence and other punishments are “not about the fame. It’s really about what anyone who’s going to commit bankruptcy fraud” will face. “There’s going to be serious consequences,” Conti said.

Miller told the judge that she opened a bank account not authorized by the court so she could pay bills and otherwise run her business affairs while the bankruptcy proceedings ground on. Melucci contends Miller was “extremely arrogant” and opened the account so she could receive and spend income away from Judge Agresti’s prying eyes to “satisfy her enormous greed.”

“‘Dance Moms’ became a hit and I became a laughingstock of reality TV,” Miller told the judge, referring both to her on-camera persona and her later legal troubles. “Why didn’t I hold myself to the same standard I hold my dancers to? Had I done that, I wouldn’t be here today.”

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