Alaskan Bush People family members Billy, 63-year-old father of the family, and Joshua, his 31-year-old son, will serve a jail sentence for lying about their residency on applications for Alaska oil dividends. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that they each pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree unsworn falsification in their Monday court appearance. For this misdemeanor offense, they will each serve 30 days in jail. In addition, they have to pay back the dividends they received, perform 40 hours of community service (which cannot be filmed for the Alaskan Bush People TV show), and never receive dividend checks from the state again. Billy's attorney advised that the money he owes is being wired. Prosecutors responded that if it is not in their office within a week, they will be back in court. His son has already repaid the money he owes.
Both Alaskan Bush People family members chose not to appear in person, but instead called in from California. Billy's attorney argued against a jail sentence on the basis of Billy's health problems that he said includes seizures and kidney problems. Joshua's attorney told the judge that Joshua is so worried about his father's health that he is willing to serve his time for him. Judge Pallenberg responded that many people with serious health issues come before the court and serve time. In October, mother Ami Brown and four other children in the family were also charged with first-degree unsworn falsification and first- and second-degree theft. As part of today's plea, charges against them will be dismissed and they will be able to continue applying for dividend checks. It is expected that the mother and four children will have to repay the approximately $21,000 they falsely received from the state. Billy and Joshua are to report to jail on April 15.
Back in November, Billy and Joshua offered a different plea deal that kept them from having to serve jail time. Judge Pallenberg dismissed that offer, saying they deserved to do jail time for their offenses. Juneau Empire quotes him as saying the following.
"It's a crime that's difficult to detect and prosecute, relatively easy to commit... When someone does get caught, if they're not punished, then it makes the temptation greater for other people, and I think there needs to be a deterrent effect."ABC News reports that Alaskan Bush People father Billy expressed an apology for his actions.
In a statement to People Magazine, Billy said the following.
"Alaska's dividend program has specific requirements for the length of time in the state, and the reasons for being out of Alaska. Because of the way we live our lives and the way we often unconventionally travel, I didn't keep good track of our movements. 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. I thought it best to settle to put this behind us."In previous statements, both Alaskan Bush People family members admitted to leaving the state in October 2009 and not returning until August 2012. Joshua Brown as also previously admitted to applying for dividend checks in the name of his three minor children, also using false residency information.
Alaskan Bush People airs on the Discovery Channel. Their website describes the Browns as a family who was "born and raised wild" with a dialect and that they often go six to nine months without seeing an outsider. They race the clock as winter approaches, building a new cabin in Copper River Valley after their previous one was burned to the ground.
The Discovery Channel has not commented on the case.
[Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel]