JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A state court judge on Thursday rejected plea agreements for two members of the family associated with the Discovery Channel's "Alaskan Bush People" reality TV show, putting the case in limbo.
Billy Brown, 62, and one of his sons, 31-year-old Joshua Brown, had each agreed to plead guilty to second-degree unsworn falsification, a misdemeanor, for lying on the application for a yearly oil revenue check given to Alaska residents. Terms of the agreements called for a suspended jail sentence, community service and restitution of $7,956 for Billy Brown and $1,174 for Joshua Brown.
But Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg rejected the agreements, saying he thought the sentences should have involved jail time. Attorneys for the men withdrew the pleas following Pallenberg's decision.
Pallenberg said that when someone steals an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, it's a theft from every Alaskan because everyone else's dividend is a tiny bit smaller. Most Alaska residents receive a yearly payout from earnings off the Alaska Permanent Fund, which was born of the state's early oil wealth and has grown through investments. To qualify for the dividend, one must have been a resident of the state for the preceding calendar year.
In separate, signed statements accompanying the plea agreements, Billy and Joshua Brown said they left Alaska in October 2009 and did not return until August 2012. Contrary to what was stated on several applications for dividends, they did not have a principle place of residence on Mosman Island in southeast Alaska from 2009 to 2013, each of the statements said.
Billy Brown, his wife and four of their sons had faced charges alleging they had applied for dividends to which they weren't entitled.
Pallenberg also expressed reservations with an agreement reached between prosecutors and those not under the plea agreement calling for an order of dismissal by the court that includes an order that they not file for dividends. Pallenberg said he's not convinced he has the authority to order people to do things, or not to do things, as part of a dismissal order and wasn't willing to sign that.
Before the plea agreements were entered into, the indictments against Billy Brown and his wife, Amora, had been dismissed. Pallenberg said the state will have to decide whether to seek a new indictment.
Charges remain pending against sons of the Browns though they also are seeking to have the charges against them dismissed, attorneys said.
The Browns were not in the courtroom Thursday; they attended the hearing telephonically.
A Discovery Channel spokeswoman, Laurie Goldberg, had no comment.