Why Did Abby Lee Miller go to Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: June 2, 2021

Ten years ago, Abby Lee Miller burst onto our television screens in the Lifetime reality show Dance Moms. For eight seasons, the founder of the Abby Lee Dance Company was famous for yelling at her students in practice sessions and motivating them to excel in dance competitions.

The show produced three spin-offs – Abby’s Ultimate Dance Competition, Dance Moms: Miami, and Dance Moms: Abby’s Studio Rescue. Miller also wrote a book in 2014 titled Everything I Learned about Life, I Learned in Dance Class. And, she was a guest judge on Dancing with the Stars.

But at the height of her reality TV career, Miller found herself in some trouble. So, let’s get to today’s topic: Why did Abby Lee Miller go to prison?

In this blog post I will cover the following topics:

  • Who is Abby Lee Miller?
  • Abby Lee Miller had numerous legal problems
  • Why did Abby Lee Miller go to prison?
  • What was prison like for Abby Lee Miller?
  • What is Abby Lee Miller doing today?

Who is Abby Lee Miller?

Abby Lee Miller is a dance instructor, choreographer, reality TV star, and author. She founded the Abby Lee Dance Company, and appeared on Dance Moms for eight seasons.

One year before the premiere of Dance Moms in 2011, Miller filed for bankruptcy because she owed more than $400,000 in back taxes to the IRS. Her financial situation improved after Dance Moms premiered, but it was only temporary.

Abby Lee Miller had numerous legal problems

Starting in 2014, Miller started to encounter a bunch of legal problems. One of the dancers on Dance Moms – Paige Hyland – sued her and accused her of assault. 

In Hyland’s complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the 13-year-old claimed Miller “intentionally engaged in conduct that caused Plaintiff Paige Hyland to reasonably believe that she was about to be touched or harmed in an offensive manner.”

“Paige Hyland reasonably feared she would be physically injured because she had observed Miller physically batter other people on the show, including physically pushing [mother] Kelly Hyland’s face, pinching another student until she bled, and violently grabbing another student by the arm,” the lawsuit read.

The lawsuit also claimed that the producers of Dance Moms encouraged a violent and combative atmosphere because they wanted to increase ratings.

“All of this was a part of a deliberate scheme by the producers to generate interest in the television show and strong ratings when each episode airs,” the documents stated.

Hyland also sued Collins Avenue Entertainment for $5 million with claims they staged disagreements that ended in a fight between her mom Kelly and Miller. 

The following year – on October 13, 2015 – Miller was indicted for fraud when it was discovered that she had created a secret bank account in 2012/2013 to hide a portion of her income. 

Miller attempted to hide the money she made from masterclasses, TV deals, and merchandise sales. She failed to file the required monthly reports for her bankruptcy case for more than a year, and this resulted in charges of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of bankruptcy assets, and false bankruptcy declarations. Miller allegedly hid $755,000 from the IRS.

Why did Abby Lee Miller go to prison?

Miller was facing 20 different counts related to bankruptcy fraud charges that came with a possible punishment of $250,000 in fines for EACH COUNT, plus five years in prison. She originally pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

In February 2016, more charges were added related to undeclared cash from the Dance Moms Australia Master Class Tour. Miller reached a deal with the IRS to plead guilty so she could have those charges against her reduced.

Miller was eventually found guilty on the bankruptcy charges. On May 9, 2017 – after a two-day sentencing hearing – the court sentenced her to one year and one day in prison, plus two years of supervised release. She was also ordered to pay $40,000 in fines plus a $120,000 judgement. 

On July 12, 2017, Miller reported to Victorville Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California. In March 2018, Miller was transferred to a halfway house in Long Beach, California, to complete her sentence. 

Miller ultimately received some time off of her sentence for health reasons. She was officially released from custody on May 25, 2018.

What was prison like for Abby Lee Miller?

After her release, Miller spoke to Hollywood Life about her time at Victorville Federal Correctional Institution. The one thing she talked about most was the prison food.

“In Victorville, we would have taco Tuesday or whatever. It was like really spicy. Other times, it wasn’t. You get used to the food,” Miller said. “The food itself is not bad. It’s the way it’s presented in the plastic tray, and it’s slopped in there. If it was on china and it was presented with a spring of parsley and pretty, it would be fine. A lot of tater tots. I will never eat another tater tot again! Here’s another thing I’ll never eat again — Wheat bread!”

Miller also described her time in prison by saying that “every day is like Groundhog Day” because of the repetitiveness. She says the days start with breakfast at 6 am, and it usually consists of oatmeal. She recommended adding raisins from the commissary.

“And then at 10am, there’s a count. You’re up, you’re dressed and you’re in your uniform or whatever you do in the morning, and somebody comes in and they count you. They literally walk up and down the aisles and you stand right outside your little cubicle and you get counted,” she explains. 

For inmates who worked, they would leave for their jobs in plumbing, welding, and landscaping after breakfast. Everyone else had free time until lunch.

“You eat and then they stand at the door when you leave to make sure that you’re not taking an apple or an orange or a banana or anything out of the commissary with you like a snack to eat later. You can’t take anything out,” she says.

Miller says she had free time after lunch until dinner, which happened anytime between 4pm and 5:30pm. There was also another count. On the days that she didn’t have afternoon free time, Miller took a real estate class and earned a personal finance class diploma.

“After dinner, people are usually in the library, playing games. There are some different programs that go on in the chapel or in the church,” Miller said. “I used to take private Spanish lessons. There are classes that used to go on like my real estate class and my finance class. They were taught by inmates. There are many girls that need to try to get a GED.”

Miller says that by 8pm she was ready to watch TV because she’s a “huge TV freak.” She says that everyone wants to watch prison shows, and there are two TV rooms for the inmates. One plays an English-speaking channel and the other plays Spanish programming.

“I watched TV until lights out and sometimes lights out was 9/9:30. Sometimes it was 10,” Miller said. “Sometimes the guards wouldn’t care, and you could watch TV until 2 in the morning. It was up to you. And then you went to bed. I usually went to my bunk and read. I read 150 books when I was there.”

Miller pointed out the positives from her time in prison, saying that she had a great tan when she came out and was 127 pounds lighter. When it comes to the negatives, Miller called out the guards. She says they gave her a hard time because they recognized her from TV.

“They come into your room. They take your locker, and they dump everything out of it,” she said. “They take red soda pop and shake it up and spray it all over your clothes.”

“You give a person power, you give them a gun, a set of keys…they have the right to do whatever they want. Vandalizing your property, spilling drinks all over your clothing for the heck of it, knocking your belongings over, throwing them on the floor. One of the monsters said, ‘You can’t talk to me like you talk to those kids on television.’” the 53-year-old said.

In a separate interview, Miller stated that her thyroid and diabetes medications had been taken away and that she was put in solitary confinement for posting a photo of herself in the prison’s visitors’ room on her Instagram page.

What is Abby Lee Miller doing today?

The medical reason for Miller’s release from custody was that she developed Lymphoma in her spine, a form of cancer that made her unable to walk. After emergency surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy, Miller is now cancer free. She does use a wheelchair to get around, but it hasn’t slowed her down.

After serving her sentence, Miller returned to Dance Moms for season 8 before the show was canceled. In 2020, she had plans for a new dance show on Lifetime, but the network scrapped the show after Miller was accused of racism. As a result, she apologized for her actions.

“I genuinely understand and deeply regret how my words have affected and hurt those around me in the past, particularly those in the Black community,” she wrote. “To Kamryn, Adriana, and anyone else I’ve hurt, I am truly sorry. I realize that racism can come not just from hate, but also from ignorance. No matter the cause, it is harmful, and it is my fault.”

Do you think Abby Lee Miller should have served time in prison for bankruptcy fraud? Let us know in the comments below.


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