Todd and Julie Chrisley, stars of the reality show “Chrisley Knows Best” and its spinoffs, were once the picture of the American Dream: A beautiful home, a big family and a thriving business.
But what the cameras didn’t show was an unfolding drama involving bank fraud, tax evasion and obstruction of justice.
Todd was born in Georgia in 1969 and then grew up in Westminster, South Carolina. He married his high school sweetheart, Teresa Terry, and together they had two kids before divorcing in 1996. In the same year his divorce from Terry was finalized, Todd married Julie.
He made a fortune through Chrisley Asset Management, a real estate company he founded in Georgia. The success of the business combined with Todd’s personality and large family made him a perfect candidate for reality TV.
Even before the Chrisleys began their reality show in 2014, they had financial problems. In 2012, Todd filed for bankruptcy protection. Explaining the filing, his lawyer told People,:“He guaranteed a real estate development loan and it failed. He was on the hook for $30 million. If he hadn’t had that happen, he would have been fine, financially.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ), however, explained that the Chrisleys — prior to their reality show — “conspired to defraud community banks in the Atlanta area to obtain more than $30 million in personal loans.”
With the help of a business partner, Mark Braddock, the Chrisleys “submitted false bank statements, audit reports, and personal financial statements to banks to obtain the millions of dollars in fraudulent loans,” the DOJ wrote.
The Chrisleys used the money from the fraudulent loans to live a life of luxury, buying expensive homes, cars and clothes, according to the DOJ. Once the money was spent, Todd filed for bankruptcy in order to avoid repaying the money; he listed $4.2 million in assets and $49.4 million in debt, according to People.
A court-appointed trustee, Jason Pettie, became suspicious of the bankruptcy filing, believing the Chrisleys were potentially hiding wealth. In February 2014, Pettie filed a complaint alleging that Todd transferred wealth to Julie to hide assets.
According to People, Pettie wrote: “Neither [Chrisley nor his wife, Julie] has been employed since 2012. However, they continue to live in lavish residences, drive expensive vehicles and travel extensively.”
Todd’s attorney, Robert Furr, insisted at the time that his client was cooperating and “not hiding assets.”
One of the issues Pettie brought up was how much the Chrisleys allegedly spent on clothes. In a promo for “Chrisley Knows Best,” Todd claimed that his family sometimes spends “$300,000 or more” a year on clothing, reported People. When filing for bankruptcy, however, Todd claimed his clothes were worth about $650. Pettie looked at receipts from several high-end stores and discovered Todd spent thousands on clothes, much more than he claimed.
Furr responded at the time by saying the Chrisleys buy used clothes.
Todd and Julie remained under suspicion for years, until 2017 when their problems expanded. WSB-TV reported at the time that the Chrisleys owed nearly $800,000 in taxes to the state of Georgia and had declared their residency on numerous public records before moving to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2016. One of Todd’s sons, Kyle, even told the outlet that his dad bragged about the situation.
“I think he’s trying to hide money,” Kyle Chrisley said. “He doesn’t like to pay what he owes.”
In 2018, Todd sued Homebanc Mortgage Corporation, Radar Online reported, alleging a “former business partner,” presumably Mark Braddock, forged Todd’s name on the mortgage and made some payments on his behalf.
“Plaintiff did not sign the Mortgage or the accompanying documents and the same contains a forgery of Plaintiff’s name,” Todd alleged in court documents, according to the outlet. “Plaintiff believes that a former business partner signed his name on the Mortgage and made various payments on the Mortgage on his behalf.”
Todd also claimed that the same business partner was the reason he had to file for bankruptcy protection in 2012.
In 2019, the Chrisleys were indicted “on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and tax evasion,” Insider reported.
Following the indictment, Todd posted a statement on Instagram and blamed “a trusted employee” for the family’s problems.
“It all started back in 2012, when we discovered that a trusted employee of ours had been stealing from us big time. I won’t go into details, but it involved all kinds of really bad stuff like creating phony documents, forging our signatures, and threatening other employees with violence if they said anything. We even discovered that he illegally bugged our home.”
Todd continued, saying that to “get revenge,” the employee “took a bunch of his phony documents to the U.S. Attorney’s office and told them we had committed all kinds of financial crimes, like tax evasion and bank fraud.” The post goes on to say that they explained the situation and the U.S. Attorney’s office stopped pursuing the case, but the employee took the information to a different set of investigators, who reopened the case and granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony.
At trial, the Chrisleys called Donna Cash, a woman who worked at Todd’s asset management company, to testify on their behalf. She testified that Braddock had her send fake financial documents to loan companies and lied about the companies, but said she stopped following his orders when the Chrisleys were about to lose their home, according to Insider.
“I did some bad things but that was one thing I wasn’t going to do,” Cash testified, adding that she called Todd to come back from vacation early so he wouldn’t come home to a foreclosed house.
She further testified that “both Mark and I were lying to [Todd] about everything that was going on.”
Todd reportedly started investigating the situation, using Cash to keep him informed about Braddock’s deeds, Insider reported.
During cross-examination, prosecutors noted that Cash was allowed to work for the Chrisleys for years after Todd allegedly discovered she had been helping commit fraud against him. They also played Cash’s previously recorded testimony, which differed from what she said in court.
After a three-week trial, a jury convicted the Chrisleys of bank fraud and tax evasion.
“The jury found that Todd and Julie Chrisley committed multiple fraud schemes for several years and their accountant, Peter Tarantino, filed false corporate tax returns on their behalf,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in a statement. “This office and our partner agencies will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute white collar criminals who flout the law.”
While the Chrisleys were found guilty of tax evasion and conspiring to defraud community banks, the couple’s accountant, Peter Tarantino, was convicted on several charges related to taxes. Julie was also convicted of obstruction of justice for submitting a fraudulent document attempting to cover up one of her and Todd’s crimes.
Braddock received immunity for providing evidence against the Chrisleys.
The Chrisleys and Tarantino will be sentenced on October 6, 2022.