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'Dance Moms' star's 2-day sentencing hearing set to begin

'Dance Moms' star's 2-day sentencing hearing set to begin

PITTSBURGH — A federal judge will decide if "Dance Moms" reality TV star Abby Lee Miller should be sentenced to prison or probation for concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of income during her Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy fraud case largely boils down to one question: Did she intend to harm the creditors she owed? Federal prosecutors say she meant to hide $775,000 in income and are seeking a prison sentence of up to 30 months. Miller's attorneys say she simply got caught up in her fame and fortune, but always planned to repay her debts. They want probation.

A two-day sentencing hearing gets underway Friday before a judge in Pittsburgh. The sentence will be imposed when both sides return Feb. 24. The two-day hearing was scheduled so the court could hear from numerous witnesses.

"Ms. Miller's manifest intention has always been to pay her creditors 100% of what they were entitled to receive," her attorney, Brandon Verdream wrote in a sentencing memo.

But Assistant U. S. Attorney Greg Melucci's competing memo says Miller repeatedly lied to a bankruptcy judge, and worked behind the scenes with her accountant and others to hide her wealth. That was done because a court-approved bankruptcy plan to determine how much Miller's creditors would be repaid hinged on how much wealth she reported.

"The judge was a (expletive)," Miller wrote in a February 2013 email to her accountant. "He hates me ... I'm paying Everyone I owe 100% back in one big check! Who does that? Nobody in bankruptcy!"

In another 2013 email, with the subject line, "LET'S MAKE MONEY AND KEEP ME OUT OF JAIL," she instructed her accountant and business partner not to deposit any money into her bank accounts, Melucci wrote.

The criminal investigation began when a channel-surfing bankruptcy judge saw Miller on TV in December 2012 and figured she had to be making more than the $8,899 in monthly income she had claimed up to that point.

"The problem here is the fact that it looks to the Court as if she was hiding the ball," U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Agresti said during a February 2013 hearing. "And until she got caught, we wouldn't have known about this."

Miller pleaded guilty to hiding more than $228,000 in income from appearances on "Dance Moms" and a spinoff, "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition," and nearly $550,000 more from personal appearances, dance sessions and merchandise before the bankruptcy judge caught on.

Miller also pleaded guilty in June to sneaking more than $120,000 worth of foreign currency into the country on a return trip from Australia in 2014.

Federal prosecutors want Miller to forfeit that money, which they say she hid in the luggage of others in her party — including children. Miller's attorney denies children were involved and is opposing the forfeiture.

"Dance Moms" follows Miller's young students and their involved mothers, who attend practices and performances and openly clash with the brash, critical Miller. The show is based out of her dance studio in Penn Hills, a Pittsburgh suburb, although Miller now lives in Los Angeles.

Joe Mandak, The Associated Press