How a Former DC Newswoman Turned the Chrisleys Into Reality TV Stars
- A former DC newswoman testified how she made the Chrisley family famous.
- Annie Kate Pons worked briefly for Chrisley before she started working in TV.
- She knew right away that the boisterous Atlanta family would make for great TV, she said.
“Chrisley Knows Best” producer Annie Kate Pons met Todd and Julie Chrisley in 2009 when she moved from Washington DC to Los Angeles to work in TV.
Pons, who had just left the DC news circuit, was pivoting to try and sell a line of baby clothes with a friend when she met Todd Chrisley, who, along with his wife, is now on trial for tax evasion and bank fraud.
She arranged a meeting with Chrisley, who was attempting to launch a luxury department store called “Chrisley and Co.,” Pons, a former Fox News employee, told the federal jury Thursday.
After meeting him in an impressive office in an upscale California neighborhood, she was immediately struck by his personality and candidness, she said.
“We’re both southern living in LA,” she said, about their connection.
Chrisley didn’t end up buying the line of clothes, but offered Pons a job as a buyer in the future department store.
At the time, she hadn’t worked in that kind of job before, but figured it was “something I could figure out,” so she accepted, according to her testimony at the federal trial in Atlanta.
Because the store didn’t exist, she was hired as an employee of Chrisley’s real estate company, but her work revolved around meeting with luxury fashion designers and trying to get them to sign on with the department store.
During one New York fashion week, Pons flew to New York and tried to get the department store brand off the ground.
“I knew if I could get him into a room with designers, people would like him,” Pons said, noting Chrisley was easy to get along with.
The department store never got off the ground and Chrisley never paid Pons $10,000 in back wages, she testified.
He kept telling her, “the check is in the mail,” or “you’ll be paid,” Pons said. “But it never came.”
Made for TV
Pons testified that she parted ways with Chrisley on good terms, letting the unpaid wages go.
A few years later, though, when working in TV, Pons couldn’t get Chrisley and his family off her mind, she said.
In late 2010, Pons said she was working for Ellen Rakieten, a co-creator of the Oprah Winfrey Show, and she pitched the idea of a show following the Chrisley family.
She and another person in the industry then met with Chrisley at a Beverly Hills hotel and spoke for four hours, she remembered.
“They were just incredibly interesting and unique,” Pons testified. “We walked away from that lunch thinking ‘There is definitely something there.'”
They then started working on a “sizzle reel,” a short episode to market the show to networks. The show eventually got offers from eight networks, including USA Network, which recently renewed it for a 10th season.
An authentic “open book”
Todd and Julie Chrisley are accused of evading taxes and operating a conspiracy defrauding banks to make it look like they were wealthier than they were to live an extravagant lifestyle they couldn’t afford.
The Chrisleys deny the charges — instead alleging that the “tax evasion” was just the result of a sloppy accountant — who is also on trial for his alleged role in the conspiracy.
When FBI and IRS investigators started digging into the case in 2017, they reviewed a radio interview where Todd Chrisley told a reporter that he paid the federal government between $700,000 and $1 million a year in taxes.
The reality was he “hadn’t paid a dime” in years, Assistant US Attorney Annalise Peters told an Atlanta federal jury in her opening statement.
Todd Chrisley’s lawyer Bruce Morris, though, said his statement to that reporter in 2017 was just an act. That, like much of what is said on the “reality show,” wasn’t true.
For example, he said, Todd Chrisley said in the first season of “Chrisley Knows Best” that his family spends $300,000 a year on clothes. That, too, Morris said, was a lie.
“He was in bankruptcy at the time,” Morris told the 16-person jury Tuesday. “It’s all part of the sizzle. It’s all part of the show. It’s all part of the act.”
Pons, though, testified Thursday that “Chrisley Knows Best” wasn’t scripted.
Part of the reason they were a good fit for reality TV was that they were authentic, and Todd Chrisley is an open book, Pons said.
“On and off camera, he is the same person,” Pons said.
Prosecutors said that between 2007 and 2012, just before the Chrisleys were first given their show, they created fake documents that made it look like they had far more money than they did.
They submitted them to dozens of Atlanta community banks to get personal loans, Assistant US Attorney Annalise Peters said.
Altogether, they took out $30 million in loans — much of which they used to buy luxury cars and designer clothes, prosecutors say. Then, in 2012, Todd Chrisley declared bankruptcy, walking away from $20 million in unpaid loans. From then on, the couple — and their accountant — schemed to hide their $6 million income from the reality show so the IRS couldn’t retrieve $500,000 Todd Chrisley owed on his 2009 taxes, prosecutors said.
Pons recalled on Thursday that while filming the first season of the show in 2012, the Chrisleys were living in a beautiful, “wonderfully decorated” Atlanta house that the network didn’t help furnish.
Todd Chrisley’s closet was full of designer clothes, and he was driving a luxury car, Pons said.
She used tidbits of his lavish lifestyle in the show to demonstrate that they were extremely wealthy, but also — in other ways — like “any other family.”
Assistant US Attorney Annalise Peters asked Pons if she had any idea Chrisley was in bankruptcy at the time.
She testified that she did not.
Pons told the jury that she only worked on the first season of “Chrisley Knows Best,” but she has producer credit for the lifetime of the show.
To this day, she makes about $200,000 a year for her work.