From Dance Moms to Jail Time: A Look at Abby Lee Miller's Ups and Downs
A look at Miller's rough time in the spotlight ahead of her yearlong prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud
Abby Lee Miller gained fame as the tough owner/instructor of Dance Moms’ The Abby Lee Dance Company, but lately her name has been in the news for all the wrong reasons — she was just sentenced to one year and one day in prison for bankruptcy fraud, after she pled guilty to hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government.
Though the prison time is an all-time low for the former reality star, she’s never had an easy time in the spotlight. Here, a look back at the 50-year-old’s ups and downs since Dance Moms’ debut.
July 2011: Dance Moms Premieres
Miller’s Pittsburgh-based The Abby Lee Dance Company became the focal point of Lifetime’s new reality series, which centered on her junior elite competition team of pre-teen girls (including now-famous Maddie Ziegler). Miller gained instant notoriety for her no-nonsense attitude — which some argued sometimes went too far.
October 2014: Sued by a Student
Paige Hyland, 13, sued Miller for assault, claiming she suffered emotional abuse and feared Miller would hurt her, citing Miller’s violent outbursts that included tossing a chair across a room in a fit of anger. The suit further claimed that the show’s producers allowed the violent atmosphere of the dance rehearsals to continue because it made the show more entertaining.
Paige’s mother Kelly sued Miller earlier that year, too, regarding a physical altercation between the two; Kelly, however, was arrested and charged with assault. Her suit was dismissed in November of that year and the assault charge and Paige’s suit were dismissed the next year.
June 2015: A Serious Slimdown
With her legal dramas behind her, Miller revealed she’d gone from a size 24 to 16. Though rumors swirled she’d had lap band surgery, she blamed the loss on a series of unfortunate events, including the stress caused by her mother’s colon cancer diagnosis, hot conditions in her Los Angeles studio and a change in her diabetes prescription.
She was happy for the change, though, and looked forward to losing more. “I’m not slim by any means,” she told PEOPLE. “I have a long, long way to go.”
October 2015: Indicted on Fraud
A federal grand jury in Pittsburgh indicted Miller on bankruptcy fraud charges for hiding more than $755,000 in secret accounts after making false claims about her income, according to the United States Attorney’s Office. She was charged with bankruptcy fraud, false bankruptcy declarations and concealment of bankruptcy assets.
The dance instructor allegedly hid income earned from Dance Moms-related shows, dance sessions and merchandise sales between 2012 and 2013. Miller allegedly hid the more than $755,000 dollars in bank accounts created solely for the purpose of hiding the income. She faced five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
According to the indictment, a bankruptcy judge grew suspicious of Miller’s claim to be cash-strapped after surfing through television and seeing some of the related shows, Reuters reported. That November, she pled not guilty to the charges.
June 2016: Pleading Guilty
With her show still going strong, Miller returned to court and pled guilty to the bankruptcy fraud charges against her. It was also revealed that she failed to report thousands of Australian dollars she brought into the United States, The Associated Press reported.
January 2017: The Case Gets Moving
In the midst of her sentencing hearing, Miller was told to forfeit the $120,000 in Australian currency she snuck into the United States in 2014. It was discovered that she’d divided the money into separate plastic bags and had friends carry it in their luggage — violating a law mandating that people report if they are bringing more than $10,000 of a foreign currency into the U.S.
At the time, a source told PEOPLE that Miller had battled financial problems for some time. “Before the show, we’d be [at the studio] on a Saturday afternoon and sheriffs would come and post notices saying they were going to shut the studio down for unpaid taxes,” the source shared. “They would be pinning notes.”
Miller’s attorney, Robert J. Ridge, told PEOPLE, “I can confirm that the studio was scheduled for sale for unpaid taxes.”
Certain individuals in the community rallied around the controversial dance teacher to help her amidst her debt crisis, the source said. Miller, in turn, would offer them free tuition and began to favor the students that gave her more lavish Christmas presents, the source claimed.
March 2017: Leaving Dance Moms Behind
Miller took to Instagram to announce angrily that she’d be leaving her popular reality series at the end of season 7B.
“FOR THE PAST SIX YEARS/SEVEN SEASONS I HAVE ASKED, BEGGED, AND EVEN DEMANDED CREATIVE CREDIT FOR ALL THE IDEAS, AWARD WINNING ROUTINES, THEMES AND COSTUMING – TO NO AVAIL!” she wrote. “I don’t have a problem working with any kid, I love children and have dedicated my life to making other people’s children successful!” she continued. “I JUST HAVE A PROBLEM WITH BEING MANIPULATED, DISRESPECTED, AND USED – DAY IN AND DAY OUT BY MEN WHO NEVER TOOK A DANCE LESSON IN THEIR LIVES AND TREAT WOMEN LIKE DIRT!”
Though Miller told PEOPLE her exit was a “long time coming,” days after her announcement, Cheryl Burke shared that she’d be filling Miller’s spot on the show — news to the series’ original star.
“We haven’t been told anything about Abby being replaced or released from the show other than seeing the stories run last night,” a rep for the reality star told PEOPLE.
April 2017: The Losing Continues
Though just weeks away from her sentencing, Miller underwent a sleeve gastrectomy in Los Angeles, removing nearly 80 percent of her stomach in hopes of losing weight. “I’m scared, I’m nervous,” she admitted.
However, the former reality star wanted to look better in the courtroom and for the cameras, she said, adding that the Dance Moms crew attempted to keep her overweight.
“If I was trying to be vegan, [they would] hand me a hoagie sandwich or Italian sub from somewhere,” she said. “I’m like, ‘What is this, lunch meat? I can’t eat this!’ “
“I hate what I look like on TV and I want to look better and nothing makes the mothers more jealous,” she added. “There’s your motivation. Payback’s a bitch.”
May 2017: She’s Sentenced
On May 9, Miller was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release.
Before the sentencing, she told PEOPLE she was “afraid of being physically abused or raped” if sent to a corrections facility. “I think the prosecutor [Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Melucci] is trying to make an example out of me.”