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Ex-'dance Moms' Host Abby Lee Miller Sentenced To Prison In Fraud Case

Almost a year and a half since she was first indicted on 20 counts of fraud, former Dance Moms host Abby Lee Miller today was sentenced to one year and one day in prison by a federal judge in Pittsburgh. After reporting in to a facility likely close to L.A. in about a month and a half and serving her time, Miller will have an additional two years of supervised release, Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti told the crying defendant and a packed courtroom Tuesday morning. Miller will also have to pay a fine of $40,000 and $120,000 judgement for the currency reporting violation charge the feds hit her with last summer. Of course, Miller also has two weeks to appeal all that went down today. With the rarely low key Miller having hidden more than $755,000 in earnings from the Lifetime reality series from the courts, the nearly two-dozen charges of fraud and more from the U.S. Attorney's office in Pittsburgh were made public in October 2015. The deeply detailed charges carried with them up to $5 million in fines and possibly five years in jail. If precedent for such white collar crime is a factor, it is likely that Miller will not end up serving the full sentence in prison and be out in around nine months – maybe. The ruling by Chief Judge Conti this morning comes after the government laid out their final argument and Miller herself took the stand in her own defense. "Dance Moms became a hit and I became the laughing stock of Reality TV," the former host tearfully told the judge of the perils of sudden fame that plagued her and lead to the situation she found herself in today. Chastising herself for her behavior, Miller promised the judge she would not be back in a courtroom if given leniency. It should be added that Miller also expressed a desire to go out for lunch with Conti "after this" – which now looks like it would be in 2020, if at all. Earlier in the day, a couple of character witnesses for the defense told the court that the argumentative and combative Miller of Dance Moms is not the person she really is. On Monday, the court held a  long session where the defense partially laid out its side of things with numerous witnesses outlining Miller's bankruptcy. As a prelude to today, the May 8 hearing also saw Chief Judge Conti formally deliver the sentencing guidelines of 10-16 months and a $5,000 to $55,000 fine for the fraud charges and 18-24 months and $7,500 t0 $75,000 on the currency reporting charges. The U.S. Attorney's office had wanted to see Miller behind bars for 2.5 years while her lawyers sought probation for the firsttime offender. Today's proceedings come as Miller is seemingly off TV for the next little while, sort of. The sometimes explosive instructor announced in late March that she was leaving the Lifetime series after several often contentious seasons due to dust-up with a Dance Moms producer on the Collins Avenue Entertainment show. Having said that, there seems to have a been a lot of activity of late at Miller's ALDC LA facility on Santa Monica Blvd in West LA. Additionally, sources say that never camera shy Miller filmed a Dance Moms clip show recently for the Lifetime series. Like today, Miller was in court for yesterday's hearing, with her sometimes on-air adversaries Christi Lukasiak and Kelly Hyland sitting behind her. Their presence sent mixed messages, especially with Hyland having sued the now ex-host for assault, defamation and destruction of her property in early 2014. Almost overlooked, the shifty details of fraud that saw Miller in court again on Tuesday  in the Pennsylvania city only came out by accident. If bankruptcy Judge Thomas Agresti hadn't nonchalantly turned on the then relatively new Dance Moms on TV one night a few years ago, the buried big bucks might have never been dug up. Judge Agresti was overseeing Miller's pre-Dance Moms bankruptcy case, which looked to be winding up. However, while watching
the Collins Avenue Entertainment produced show, the judge started wondering why money from the show wasn't being included as a part of the bankruptcy proceedings, which had Miller claiming a total income of $8,899 a month. A subsequent investigation by the feds revealed there were a lot of reasons why Judge Agresti hadn't seen anything about that money in the bankruptcy case. Among the many deceptions she employed, Miller had Collins Avenue pay her mother some of the thousands of dollars in fees that were due to her from the show to escape the court's notice. After first pleading no guilty in November 2015 and putting up a very public fight, the then increasingly embattled Dance Moms host spun around and entered a guilty plea on June 27, 2016 as she now also faced a new charge of violating currency reporting laws. Monday's hearing was filled with attorneys questioning FBI agent Sean Langford, the lead in the fraud case, along with reviewing emails and spreadsheets that included invoices and pay checks that the U.S Attorney's office said were never reported when Miller filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Also, lawyer David Valencik, of Pittsburgh-based bankruptcy firm Calaiaro Valencik testified that Miller hired the firm in 2010 as her finances hit a rough patch and her local dance studio faced a tax sale.  Interestingly, Valencik admitted that back then Dance Moms was not considered a strong source of income for Miller. "We didn't think it was reliable," the bankruptcy lawyer told the courtroom as a witness for the defense. Later in the day, Valencik told the court the Dance Moms money became much more central to Miller's life and the bankruptcy case. Repeating much of what they had said in previous documents submitted to the court in January, both Miller's defense team and the feds filed final sentencing briefs late last week (read them here and here) with the former advocating probation because of lack of priors while the latter again sought punishing jail time. Earlier this year, Chief Judge Conti implied in tentative findings that she was inclined to lean towards no jail time for Miller because ultimately none of her creditors were stiffed in the bankruptcy. While there were numerous delays in the matter, part of Miller's argument for leniency was that she made ill-considered choices because she was too caught up in the rapid acceleration of her life due to the success of Dance Moms. "Ms. Miller respectfully requests that the Court impose a non-custodial sentence after considering her acceptance of responsibility and the nature and characteristics of her conduct and her life," said attorneys Robert Ridge and Brandon Verdream in a sentencing memorandum submitted early this year. Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Melucci strongly disagreed and made it known at the first part of the sentencing sessions on January 20. Trying to convince the judge that Miller was not so innocent or duped by her own celebrity, Melucci told Conti that the government believed the Dance Moms host "intended to cause harm" to her creditors by deliberately misrepresenting her income on bankruptcy filings in 2012. That hearing on the same day that Donald Trump became President also saw Miller try to walk things back a bit. Her lawyers told the court that Miller was dropping her attempts to keep the $120,000 she was accused of illegally sneaking into America from Australia in the summer of 2014. The feds also took something off the table too. The government had previously claimed that Miller had used minors to get the money back to America, implying members of the Dance Moms team. At that January 20 hearing, they removed their request to enhance Miller's sentence for the use of minors in her activity of not reporting bringing more that $10,000 into the country. Back in the TV world, there is no official word yet from Lifetime if Dance Moms will be back for another season though all indications are it will. There is also no official word who will be fronting the next season of the show.

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