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Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino indicted on tax fraud. Why do so many reality stars have money problems?

Reality television personality Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino arrives at the 2011 American Music Awards in Los Angeles Nov. 20, 2011. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino was indicted on tax fraud on Wednesday — a serious offense and one that might sound familiar if you follow the ups and downs of reality stars.

Both Sorrentino and his brother/manager, Marc, allegedly filed false tax returns on about $8.9 million in income from “promotional activities,” according to officials. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said that the siblings funneled company money (they own two businesses together, including a tanning salon) into personal accounts, in addition to claiming expensive clothes and cars as business expenses. Sorrentino also allegedly earned nearly $2 million in 2011 and didn’t file a personal tax return.

Sorrentino shot to fame in 2009 as the breakout star of MTV’s surprise hit “Jersey Shore” — yes, he’s the one with the famous abs who coined the phrase “GTL” (gym, tan, laundry) to explain life’s priorities. He was the first of his cast mates to capitalize on the instant fame while the show was red-hot: After the first season, sources reported he was on track to earn $5 million for multiple endorsements, fitness DVDs and a cologne line. He charged between $15,000 and $50,000 for personal appearance at nightclubs and went on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“It’s a platform,” Sorrentino’s manager said at the time of the business deals coming his way. “You have to use it intelligently.”

That can be a problem for reality stars, who don’t necessarily have the paychecks to live like celebrities — even if they want to. When MTV canceled “Jersey Shore” in 2012, Sorrentino reportedly made about $2 million for the season, though he quickly fell out of the spotlight. Toward the end of the show’s run, he was making headlines for going to rehab and being charged with assault after a fight at his tanning salon. He attempted a short-lived reality show about his family, “The Sorrentinos” on TVGN.

The news is reminiscent of Richard Hatch, the Season 1 winner of “Survivor” who went to prison for about three years after being convicted of tax evasion. He eventually was sent back again for nine months when he didn’t pay the taxes on his $1 million prize from the show.

Likewise, Teresa and Joe Giudice became famous for “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” but soon were in the news for their bankruptcy filing. Though they showed off their wealth on the Bravo show, it was revealed that they had massive money problems and reportedly were $13 million in debt. Eventually the couple plead guilty to bankruptcy fraud, among other charges.

Of course, that’s not a unique situation to “Real Housewives” stars, who all appear to have lives of luxury on camera, with some unpleasant financial problems in real life. Jezebel once chronicled the “Real Housewives” Bankruptcy index, from multiple “Orange County” cast members to multiple stars of “Atlanta.”

Recently, Todd Chrisley — whose quirky Southern family stars on USA’s “Chrisley Knows Best” — raised eyebrows about his financial status. Though he frequently flaunts his family’s money on their show, it was revealed that he filed for bankruptcy (in debt nearly $50 million) in 2012.

As for the Sorrentinos, they could face jail time. Fishman, the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey, said the Sorrentino brothers will be arraigned in Newark federal court on Oct. 6. He specifically brought up the fact that even reality stars can’t get away with everything.

“As alleged in today’s indictment, rather than living in reality and reporting their true income, Michael Sorrentino and his brother Marc created the illusion that they earned less income by filing false and fraudulent tax returns,” Fishman said. “No matter what your occupation or status in life, if you attempt to cheat on your taxes for personal financial gain, you face real consequences including criminal prosecution and a possible prison sentence.”