Two stars of the wildly popular reality show "Alaskan Bush People" pleaded guilty in Juneau court Wednesday to lying about their Alaska residency on applications for the Permanent Fund dividend.
Billy Brown, the 62-year-old patriarch of the family, and his second-oldest son, 31-year-old Joshua "Bam Bam" Brown, each pleaded guilty to a single count of second-degree unsworn falsification in the case that has called into question how long the Brown family actually lived in Alaska between 2009 and 2012.
Most Alaska residents are eligible to receive a dividend if they have lived in the state for at least one year.
On Wednesday, the Browns didn't show up in Juneau. Instead, they called into the hearing from Seattle, Billy Brown told the judge. The family previously resided in Texas and Colorado, according to Fish and Game citations.
As part of a proposed plea deal, the two Browns would serve two years on probation, pay back thousands of dollars in dividends and each complete 40 hours of community service, which the judge said cannot be filmed.
The date of the court hearing fell one week after nearly 5 million people tuned into the season premiere of "Alaskan Bush People," according to Discovery Channel, which airs the show.
The reality series, now in its third season, follows Billy Brown, his wife Amora and their seven children, depicted as living in the Alaska wilderness. The show's website describes the family as "born and raised wild."
Discovery Channel did not return a request for comment for this story.
In a signed statement with the plea deal Wednesday, Billy Brown wrote that he left Alaska in October 2009 and didn't return until August 2012. At the time, he wrote on PFD applications that he lived on Mosman Island in Southeast Alaska.
"By submitting falsified PFD applications for myself and my children, I stole $7,956 from the people of Alaska," Brown wrote.
Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg will consider the plea deal Thursday afternoon. He called PFD fraud a serious matter and said that in prior cases, it deserved jail time.
"It's a theft from everybody, every resident of the state of Alaska," he said.
If Pallenberg accepts the plea deal, prosecutors will drop all charges against Amora "Ami" Brown, 52, and three of the adult children: Solomon "Bear" Brown, 28, Gabriel "Gabe" Brown, 25, and Noah Brown, 23. But first, the four of them must each pay back nearly $3,000 in dividends and complete 20 hours of community service.
Billy Brown must pay back $7,956 and Joshua Brown must pay $1,174.
Pallenberg said that a charge of unsworn falsification, a misdemeanor, can come with a fine of up to $10,000 and up to one year in jail.
Originally, the Brown family had faced a total of 60 counts of first-degree unsworn falsification and first- and second-degree theft linked to PFD applications submitted from 2010 to 2013.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Joshua Brown as Billy Brown's oldest son. He is the second-oldest.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing