Big Freedia avoided prison time Thursday when a judge sentenced her to three years probation for lying about her income in order to scam government-subsidized housing. In March, the bounce artist and reality-TV star pleaded guilty to the crime, misrepresenting her income for five years. The New Orleans Advocate reports that she will also have to serve community service and pay a $35,000 fine. She had faced a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
During sentencing, Freedia – who appeared in court using her legal name, Freddie Ross, Jr. – told U.S. District Judge Lance Africk that she was "very embarrassed" by her behavior. She also declared, "I am at fault for my criminal conduct."
Freedia put out an album sponsored by car company Scion in 2011 and has starred on the Fuse TV series Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce for five seasons, yet she reported in government documents that she earned less than $21,700 annually, the threshold for subsidized housing in New Orleans during that time. She also earned income from performances and merchandise. NOLA.com reported her sentencing reflected her filings between 2010 and 2014.
In 2010, she reported that she'd made as little as $0 that whole year. The following year, she claimed she made $14,400 and, in 2013 and 2014, she said she made only $12,000; she said she received a one-time gift from her father in 2013. Additionally, she reported that her assets were worth between $0 and $250. Applicants must file changes in income within 10 days, according to NOLA.com, which also reported that the subsidies were intended for the poor, elderly and disabled.
In total, the suit claimed she defrauded the Department of Housing and Urban Development of approximately $34,800, as the government paid her landlords for her housing.
In March, Freedia said that she "unequivocally" accepted responsibility for the misrepresentation. She claimed her actions were oversight but Judge Africk told her then that "this crime is much more than an oversight."
He was resolute Thursday in his sentencing. "Please do not mistake kindness for weakness," he said, warning her not to fall back into substance abuse. "You have the advantage of not only keeping yourself healthy and unaddicted but also acting as a role model for others."