Taxing Situation

10/1/2014

MTV's Jersey Shore premiered in late 2009 and quickly became the network's most-watched series ever. Cast members Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, Jennifer "JWoww" Farley, and their outrageous, hard-partying housemates have become New Jersey's most famous family since The Sopranos, trying their best to put the "fun" back in "dysfunctional."  

Of course, not everyone was in on the joke. Critics objected that the show painted New Jerseyites and Italian-Americans as drunken, brawling louts, obsessed with their "GTL" (gym, tanning, and laundry, for those not in-the-know). New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was so embarrassed at their antics that he vetoed a $420,000 tax credit, dubbed the "Snooki subsidy," for the show's producers. "As Chief Executive," he explained, "I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens."  

Now the Jersey Shore crew is making tax news again. But this time, the numbers are even higher and the consequences even more serious. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted "The Situation" for one count of conspiracy, two counts of filing false tax returns for 2010 through 2012, and one count of failing to file a return for 2011.  

Sorrentino and his cast mates may look like the sort of people the word "bonehead" was invented to describe. But when it came to cashing in on their 15 minutes of fame, they weren't slouches. Snooki made as much as $30,000 per episode, commanded $10,000 for personal appearances, and rang the bell to open the New York Stock Exchange. Sorrentino was even more ambitious, charging up to $48,000 for nightclub openings and other events. He also earned millions more from endorsements, a partnership in a vodka company, an "autobiography," a workout DVD, clothing and vitamin lines, and a comic book featuring himself as a shirtless superhero. Now the government is alleging that Sorrentino and his brother Marc avoided tax on $8.9 million of income. The indictment charges that they submitted false documents understating their receipts, and false personal returns failing to report all their income. They also fraudulently "claimed millions of dollars in personal expenses as business expenses, including payments for high-end vehicles and clothing, personal grooming expenses, and distributions – or direct payments – from the businesses to personal bank accounts."  

Sorrentino has pled not guilty to the charges. Meanwhile, he's free on $250,000 bail. He's surrendered his passport and agreed not to leave the New York-New Jersey area. He's also subject to random drug testing and prohibited from drinking alcohol until his trial. Of course, a little sobriety looks like a holiday on the shore compared to what he's facing if he's convicted — the conspiracy charge alone could mean five years in a tightly structured living environment that discourages expressions of personal dress and style.  

Sadly, "The Situation" isn't the only Garden State reality star facing IRS heat. "Real Housewife of New Jersey" Teresa Giudice and her husband are awaiting sentencing on their own tax and fraud charges.