NEW: In a statement, Billy Brown blames the issues on poor-record keeping
The deal calls for dropping charges against other family members, newspaper says
According to the Discovery Channel’s description for the reality show “Alaskan Bush People,” the featured family lives life “so far removed from civilization that they often go six to nine months of the year without seeing an outsider.”
That wasn’t always the case, apparently.
On Monday, the Brown family patriarch and one of his sons pleaded guilty to fraud charges involving allegations that they took money from a state fund for residents while they were living elsewhere, according to media reports.
Billy Brown, 63, and Joshua Brown, 31, were sentenced Monday to 30 days in jail after pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of unsworn falsification in the second degree, according to the Juneau Empire newspaper.
They’ll also have to pay fines and thousands of dollars in restitution, the newspaper said.
Billy Brown and his son reportedly attended the hearing by telephone from California.
The elder Brown had originally been charged with 24 counts, including several felony charges, according to court records. His son faced six counts.
Four other members of the family were also charged. The plea deal with Billy Brown and his son calls for those charges to be dismissed, the newspaper reported.
The pleas stem from allegations that family members had bilked the state’s Permanent Fund out of more than $20,000 by claiming in applications from 2009 to 2012 that they met residency requirements when they hadn’t, according to the Juneau Empire.
The fund, which is derived from oil revenues, requires residents to live in the state year-round to receive payouts.
The program allows absences of up to 180 days, or even longer for one of 16 specific reasons, such as military service, education or long-term health care needs.
According to the Juneau Empire, Brown and his son signed statements as part of the court case saying they’d left Alaska in 2009 and did not return until 2012 – two years before the Discovery Channel show began airing.
In a statement, Billy Brown blamed the problem on poor record-keeping.
“Because of the way we live our lives and the way we often unconventionally travel, I didn’t keep good track of our movements,” Brown said. “I accept full responsibility for filing for benefits without confirming that we met the requirements.
“We are committed to living in Alaska for the long term and we respect the state’s rules,” said Brown, who also apologized to the judge on Monday.”I thought it best to settle to put this behind us.”
The allegations involve claims predating the Discovery Channel show, which began airing in 2014. It’s unclear what, if any, impact the pleas could have on the show, which is currently in reruns.
A spokeswoman for the channel said Discovery had no comment on the case.