Each year qualifying Alaska residents receive a Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) check, distributed to those eligible for nothing more than living there. The Brown family, who stars in the Discovery Channel show Alaskan Bush People, is currently in trouble with the state, facing 60 counts of felony charges due to false statements made on PFD applications between 2010 and 2013.
The PFD money comes from a percentage of the proceeds on the Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1976 as a savings account for oil revenues. The principal is used for income-producing investments, and a portion of the proceeds are distributed among eligible residents. This year the amount will be $1,884.00. In order to qualify for the payment, applicants must have been a resident of the state during the previous year, and intend to remain in the state indefinitely. They must not have claimed residency in any other state, and have not been sentenced or incarcerated as a result of a felony conviction or misdemeanor. If absent from the state for more than 180 days it must have been an allowable absence, such as school or military service, and even with an allowable absence the applicant must have been physically present in the state for at least 72 consecutive hours at some time during the previous year.
The Brown’s problems stem from the “physical presence” requirement, which the state believes the family did not meet, even though they received PFD checks. Scott Stair is an investigations manager with the Alaska Department of Revenue. He said Thursday that an out-of-state fraud tip prompted an investigation into the Browns eligibility. Stair said that between October 2009 and August 2012 the Brown family did not meeting the “physical presence requirement,” meaning the state believes that they spent more than 180 days each year living outside of the state, and that they lied on their applications to hide this fact.
The Discovery Channel’s director of communications, Sean Martin, wrote in an email that they do not divulge their shooting dates, so they cannot advise when the filming concluded on season one. He did confirm that they are “currently filming new episodes,” although air dates are not yet announced.
A grand jury in state capital Juneau has charged six of the seven family members with a total of 60 counts of first- and second-degree theft, and first-degree unsworn falsification. Billy Brown, 61, faces 24 of the charges, linked to PFD applications filed between 2010 and 2013, and for the theft of over $13,000 in dividend money. Other charges have been filed against Amora Brown, 51, Joshua Brown, 30, Solomon Brown, 27, Gabriel Brown, 24 and Noah Brown, 22.
Alaskan Bush People describes the Brown family, consisting of Billy, Ami and their seven children, as a “recently discovered family that was born and raised wild.” According to Discovery’s website, all nine sleep together in a one-room cabin, refer to themselves as a “wolf pack,” and have developed their own accent and dialect.
Nov. 4 is the scheduled date for the Alaskan Bush People family to appear in court on the PFD fraud charges. First-degree unsworn falsification and second-degree theft are class C felonies that carry a maximum penalty of five years and up to a $50,000 fine, according to the state Department of Law.
By Beth A. Balen