By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Vance kept somewhat involved in his father's company as vice-chairman on the Miller executive committee, but he turned most of his attention toward his own development company, Vance C. Miller Interests.
In 1976, he bought Prestonwood Country Club and the unspoiled acreage adjoining it, picking it up for cheap from the estate of the deceased owner. "He came with a whole lot of expertise whose name was 'daddy,'" says one real estate executive who has worked with the Miller companies. "He loves to make the deal, but he ain't Henry, and he ain't Trammell Crow."
By 1984, Vance was independently worth $81 million--or so he claimed on financial statements he gave to secure his loans. He moved up from a board seat to co-chair BancTexas, a regional bank groaning under the weight of troubled oil-business loans.
In a profile that appeared in the Downtown News in 1983, Miller was pictured as a man sitting back in his office on the 30th floor of Bryan Tower. "Friday, I bought another 350 acres in west Plano," he said while sucking on a big La Corona cigar. He was bullish on what he described as the North City--his projects near Prestonwood Country Club: "It's probably the best place to be in the U.S., or in the world."
At the same time that Miller was pointing out of his window and telling the impressionable writer about all the land he planned on developing, he and his wife were emerging as powers in the Dallas GOP. In 1984, Tincy Miller was appointed to the state board of education, a Dallas and Collin county seat that she has retained in the last three elections. Meanwhile, President Ronald Reagan rewarded Vance for his support by naming him to a one-year term on the board of the Federal National Mortgage Association, which buys mortgages from lenders and issues securities.
To the present day, Vance Miller is considered a key GOP benefactor. "I like Vance," says Tom Pauken, former state Republican chairman and a candidate for Texas Attorney General. "It's a big party, and there are a number of key supporters; Vance is definitely one of them."
In advance of this year's primaries, for instance, Dallas County District Attorney candidate Bill Hill--the presumed next DA--listed Miller among his big-name backers. In March 1994, the Millers used their Beverly Drive home to host a fundraiser for Carole Keeton Rylander, a Republican on the railroad commission. And during the 1996 national campaign, Miller hosted a $10,000-a-plate fundraiser with House Speaker Newt Gingrich at Prestonwood Country Club.
But all the time he was pressing political flesh, he owed the feds his whopping eight-figure debt.
Although Vance Miller is credited with a certain amount of real estate savvy, he had his neck out as far as the next guy, if not further, when 1986 in Dallas turned into 1929. He lost his hotels, his business parks, his apartment houses. His bank closed, and his creditors came knocking.
By 1987, after obtaining a court judgment to collect a defaulted loan, Cullen/Frost Bank cleaned out his personal bank accounts--garnishing a total of $41,000--and began looking for more. When they sought to sit him down for a deposition, to make him expose his assets under oath, he produced a doctor's note saying his health wouldn't permit it. By 1990, Jerome Ferguson, the bank's lawyer, had concluded that Miller's father had established a trust for his son, who also served as his own trustee. The arrangement would have let Miller put assets out of easy reach.
"It's called litigation," says Miller attorney Pronske, defending some of the tactics he and his client have used over the past eight years to cushion the downside of Miller's romp in the free market. "You put the creditor to his proof, you litigate, and you settle. That's the way the thing is done."
Pronske, reached over the holidays at his vacation home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, pointed out that Miller eventually settled the Cullen/Frost case, the Mesquite I-30 Venture loan, and a substantial debt with NCNB--all for negotiated and undisclosed amounts.
Just last year he settled with another debtor, golf pro Alan Neiderlitz and his wife, Peggy, says Pronske.
That tale, which unfolded between 1992 and 1997, provides some insight into what style of litigation Pronske and Miller employ.
The unpleasant story begins in Naples, Florida, where Vance's eldest son, Vance Miller Jr., then 36, was passed out drunk on the floor of the Neiderlitz home.
Cocky and filled with a sense of entitlement, Vance Jr. was more than a garden-variety problem rich kid. By his 30s, he had accumulated 15 arrests and nine convictions, including four for driving while intoxicated and three for drug possession. In late 1991, a woman accused Vance Jr. of beating her with a baseball bat. She dropped the charges, she said, after she agreed to go away for an $80,000 cash settlement.
Just after that, Vance Jr. left for Florida.
The son, who had been given a $60,000-a-year job and a company car for doing little more than attending Prestonwood directors' meetings, was accomplished at one thing in life: golf. At Prestonwood, he had befriended club pro Alan Neiderlitz, who by 1992 had moved to Florida. Vance Jr. took up an invitation to visit his old teacher and quickly became the houseguest from hell. In a drunken rage, he assaulted Neiderlitz's wife, Peggy, who pressed charges against him, which later led to his criminal conviction for battery.