When the Chrisley family burst onto the reality scene in 2014 with USA Network’s “Chrisley Knows Best” they were the Southern-blond answer to the Kardashians: wealthy and extremely tight knit, with a dollop of “bless your heart” attitude.
In an early promo for the show, Todd Chrisley, the flamboyant, controlling-but-endearing patriarch bragged about the money he supposedly made in real estate. He was quick to note that his family — wife Julie and their three children, Chase, Savannah and Grayson, now ages 26, 25 and 16 respectively, along with Todd’s children from an earlier marriage, Lindsie, now 33, and Kyle, 31 — lived in a gated community outside of Atlanta. They were neighbors with former Braves great Chipper Jones and singer Usher, Chrisley boasted, and the fam dropped a cool $300,000 a year on clothing alone.
“I try to keep everything in order and in line. I have a certain level of expectations for my children, for my wife, for myself,” Chrisley, now 53, said in the promo.
But the family’s wealthy facade all came crumbling down last spring when Todd and Julie were found guilty of bank fraud and tax evasion in a sensational trial. Now the show’s over: On Tuesday, Todd and Julie will report to prison, where he’s been sentenced for 12 years and she to seven.
“The Chrisleys have built an empire based on the lie that their wealth came from dedication and hard work,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum on Nov. 16.
“The jury’s unanimous verdict sets the record straight: Todd and Julie Chrisley are career swindlers who have made a living by jumping from one fraud scheme to another, lying to banks, stiffing vendors, and evading taxes at every corner.”
The couple had humble, wholesome beginnings. They both hail from rural Westminster, South Carolina, a once-thriving textile town that as of 2021 had a population of around 2363.
Their money troubles go back years, before they even had a reality show. In 2012, Chrisley filed for Chapter 7, listing $4.2 million in assets and $49.4 million in debt. At the time, he claimed to have only $55 in a checking account and $100 in cash.
“He guaranteed a real estate development loan and it failed,” his attorney Robert Furr explained to People in 2014. “He was on the hook for $30 million. If he hadn’t had that happen, he would have been fine, financially.”
Such money issues didn’t keep the family from reality stardom. By the end of 2016, the Chrisley’s show was already in its fourth season and the clan’s profile was on the rise — so much so that security concerns led them to relocate to Nashville.
There, they bought two mansions worth roughly a combined $9 million and continued to drive flashy cars while their kids became podcasters and Instagram influencers with millions of followers.
Amid his success, Chrisley offered to donate money in 2016 and build an aquatic center in his hometown of Westminster with one condition: It had to be named for his late father Gene Chrisley.
But what looked like a generous gesture from a hometown boy-made-good quickly devolved into an ugly conflict that divided the locale and showcased Todd’s uncanny ability to whip up drama even when the cameras weren’t rolling.
“Most doubted the offer was sincere, but the [town] council remained open in learning more,” former town administrator Chris Carter told The Post.
When the project stalled, Todd took to Facebook blasting detractors, some of whom were private citizens of Westminster. He bragged about his show’s ratings and flashed their Facebook profiles across the screen, urging his own followers to confront them online.
“Facebook brought out the trolls who posted pretty negative things about the town because of the city’s perceived reticence to take Chrisley [up] on the offer. Lots of them, I understand, did not even live in the Westminster area — the show’s groupies I suppose,” said Carter.
He added that Todd then created an additional stipulation for his donation: that the town’s council, except for one woman, resign.
“Most peple felt like in the town they were being played and it turned out they were. Other than for the show drama of it, there was nothing substantive ever talked about. It was all to gin up animosity and division,” continued Carter.
In the end, no money was donated and no pool was built. A few locals said the saga, which was covered in the local press, was just another chapter in the ostensibly fabulous life of the self-styled mogul.
“He’s all hat and no cattle,” quipped one local. (Chrisley did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.)
Meanwhile, the family’s personal dramas were making for good TV.
While it often focused on lighthearted family conflict such as sibling rivalry, Savannah’s pageants and household pranks, “Chrisley Knows Best” didn’t shy away from serious issues. Kyle struggled with drug addiction and mental health, so much so that Todd and Julie legally adopted his daughter Chloe, now 10, when she was a toddler.
In 2019, Savannah and Chase launched their own spinoff, “Growing Up Chrisley.” It would go on to run for four seasons — until Todd and Julie were convicted, at which point both it and “Chrisley Knows Best” were abruptly canceled.
The trial also took an ax to Todd’s reputation of being a devoted family man. His former business partner Mark Braddock testified that he and Todd were intimate for about a year in the early 2000s.
Chrisley has denied the claims.
“What insulted me the most is that, out of all these 54 years, for me to finally be accused of being with a man, it would be someone who looked like Mark Braddock,” Todd said on a recent episode of his podcast “Chrisley Confessions.” He added that Braddock resembled a “toad.”
The Chrisleys are just the latest reality show stars to face federal charges. In 2014, “Real Housewives of New Jersey” stars Teresa and Joe Giudice both pleaded guilty to several counts including bankruptcy fraud, conspiracy to commit both mail fraud wire fraud as well as failing to pay taxes.
Earlier this month, “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah was sentenced to six-and-a-half-years in prison for heading a years-long telemarketing scam that targeted elderly Americans.
But, the Chrisleys are maintaining their innocence.
“As a family, we are still united and standing firm in our positions and in our faith. We don’t waiver in our faith,” the patriarch said on the podcast. “Now listen. Are we disappointed? Are we hurt? Yes, but we know that God has a purpose for everything.”