‘Dance Moms’ star indicted on bankruptcy fraud charges
A Pittsburgh-area dance studio owner who developed national careers for herself and several protégés on reality TV will need some fancy footwork to avoid prison, federal officials said Wednesday.
A federal grand jury indicted “Dance Moms” star Abigale “Abby” Lee Miller, 50, formerly of Penn Hills, on 20 counts of bankruptcy fraud, alleging she concealed about $755,000 in assets and made false bankruptcy declarations. If guilty, Miller could be sentenced to five years in prison for each count.
Miller paid her creditors everything she owed them when she came out of bankruptcy, said her attorney Robert Ridge.
“There is no loss to any of her creditors,” he said. “We will review the indictment and respond appropriately.”
Miller is shooting the sixth season of “Dance Moms,” a popular reality television series, and “continues to share her love of dance with children around the world,” he said.
Federal bankruptcy Judge Thomas Agresti was ready to approve Miller’s Chapter 11 voluntary bankruptcy reorganization plan when he suddenly ordered a new hearing and prodded Miller to fully disclose her income and contracts, according to the indictment.
In a February 2013 hearing, the judge noted that if it weren’t for him channel surfing one night and seeing Miller’s “Ultimate Dance Competition” and ads for “The Maniac is Back” and her appearance on “American Idol,” he wouldn’t have known about the contracts.
“I realized that there’s an awful lot of money coming into this plan, this case, and it hasn’t been disclosed,” Agresti said during the hearing.
Lying to a federal bankruptcy judge is a crime and undermines a process that “can be a lifesaver for honest individuals overwhelmed by debt,” said Scott S. Smith, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh division.
“We take our responsibility to pursue allegations of bankruptcy fraud seriously,” he said.
Miller gained national fame and started the careers of several Pittsburgh-area teens since her show began airing on Lifetime in 2011. The parents of several teens couldn’t be reached for comment.
A reporter who tried to talk to some of the parents who were dropping off their children at Miller’s Penn Hills dance studio was ordered off the property.
A spokeswoman for Lifetime’s parent company, A+E Networks, and Bryan Stinson, the executive producer at Collins Avenue Entertainment for the “Dance Moms” franchise, could not be reached for comment.
Miller filed for bankruptcy in December 2010 and emerged from bankruptcy in December 2013. Since she paid all her creditors, it’s not clear why she would have hidden income.
When she filed for voluntary bankruptcy reorganization, she listed about $325,000 in assets — mostly consisting of her dance studio on Saltsburg Road in Penn Hills and a house in Davenport, Fla. — and listed about $356,000 in debts. A Penn Hills home was owned by her now late mother, Meryen Miller.
By comparison, Abigale Miller hid more than $755,000 in income from her reality TV show, “Dance Moms,” several TV spinoffs and her merchandise and apparel sales, prosecutors said.
Her largest debts were the mortgages on the two buildings, a $5,400 credit card debt and unpaid property and other taxes, according to court records. While she owed money to several vendors, the debt amounts owed were all less than the credit card debt.
Several former creditors declined to comment or could not be reached.
During the three years of the bankruptcy proceeding, Miller was supposed to deposit her income into a special account and report that income to the court.
Instead, she set up other bank accounts and funneled her income from the TV show and other ventures into those accounts, prosecutors said.
Despite the popularity of the show, Miller claimed in her bankruptcy reorganization plan that she didn’t have a contract and that her income from the show was “volatile.” In fact, she had contracts and steady income, prosecutors said.
One of Miller’s attorneys, Donald R. Calaiaro, told Judge Agrest during the February 2013 hearing that they were unaware of the new contracts or an extra $288,000 until Miller suddenly deposited the money into the bankruptcy account, according to the indictment.
Miller also claimed ignorance, saying, “I didn’t even know about them,” when the judge questioned her about the TV contracts, according to the indictment.
Miller continued to hide income from the court after that hearing, prosecutors said.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or email@example.com.