Why the ‘Alaskan Bush People’ Will Be Roughing it in Jail

Joshua (far left) and Billy (center) were sentenced to 30 days in jail for fraud.
Joshua (far left) and Billy (center) were sentenced to 30 days in jail for fraud.Courtesy Discovery Channel

Alaskan Bush People stars Billy Brown and son Joshua “Bam Bam” Brown were sentenced to 30 days in jail yesterday for lying on an application for Permanent Fund dividends — oil money paid to all Alaskan residents. The sentencing comes at the end of a series of publicized hearings that revealed the family spent significant portions of the years 2009–2012 outside of Alaska, contrary to what is portrayed on their hit reality television show on the Discovery Channel.

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In order for Alaskan citizens to collect the yearly payout provided by the dividends, which are bolstered by funds from the state’s booming oil industry, they must not have been absent from the state for more than 180 days (with a few exceptions, like for college students and military personnel). The dividends can be a nice payoff. In the years the Browns were collecting the payments, they averaged $1,159.50 per person — but the Browns had actually spent huge windows of time outside out of the state, disqualifying them from the dividend.

“There were some absences down south, when they were trying to promote the book, most likely,” says Billy Brown’s attorney for the case, James McGowan (Brown authored a book in 2007).

Although the revelation that the Brown family wasn’t always living as “wild” as previously indicated, McGowan says they’re still real Alaskans. “They’re the real deal, for sure, no questions about it. They’re genuine Alaskans.” Despite this, there’s reason to believe that the judge may be throwing the book at the Browns as an example for other residents.

“I’ve never heard of anyone going to jail over this,” says McGowan. While Billy and Joshua have been sentenced with misdemeanors and jail time, the other four Brown sons and their mother, Ami, will be ordered to pay fines. The family has reported to court only over the telephone, as they’re outside of Alaska yet again. This time it was due to Billy’s ailing health, which was a central storyline of the most recent season of the show, which wrapped last week.

“He’s definitely sick, that’s a reality,” confirmed McGowan. The family is currently in the San Diego area, where Brown is undergoing treatment at a medical facility.

The Browns provided Men’s Journal with the following statement from Billy: “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.”

Discovery Channel had no comment. 

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