Deadbeat

Vance Miller lives in a Highland Park mansion, carries weight in the GOP, and parties with high society. He owes you, the taxpayer, $26 million, and he ain't paying.

With the help of publicist Terry Van Willson, the Millers now practically live in the social columns, where Vance Sr. is often referred to as a "magnate" or "mogul." Not content to let others do all the gushing, Willson also does some of his own writing about his client family, saying of them in a cover story in Philanthropy in Texas, "Ask charity organizations in the city what the Miller name stands for, and the answer will be charity itself."

When his creditors come calling, though, Vance Miller sounds more like a man who requires charity rather than someone who gives to it.

Given the various protections Texas law provides individuals for their personal debts, there are plenty of opportunities for a man as apparently wealthy as Miller to render himself poor on paper, or "judgment proof" as lawyers put it.

For starters, Texas is a relatively debtor-friendly state, says Dallas lawyer Gary Pridavka. "You can keep your house under our homestead protections--even if it's a mansion--two cars, $60,000 worth of personal possessions, and so on."

Beyond that, he says, "It's a rich man's game, but if you hire enough lawyers, you can figure out enough schemes to hide behind. You can hide behind this corporation or this trust. You keep enough balls in the air, and you wear them out. They file a lawsuit against you. You sue them back."

The playbook sounds familiar.
Brenda Collier, who was hired to work at collecting the Miller debt last fall, began her efforts with some moves that seemed to have been designed primarily to embarrass. "He doesn't embarrass easily," she says.

She obtained an order to garnish the fees Miller is paid as a director of Pilgrim's Pride Corporation. She also secured a court order to collect property above the $60,000 limit from the Miller mansion, which sits on a lot that alone is valued on the tax rolls at more than $500,000.

When Collier pulled up last October 15 with the moving vans and Tincy Miller obstinately locked the door, Pronske was soon on the driveway telling the federal marshals that Collier was allowed only to videotape the contents of the Miller home.

Vance's 35-year old son Vaughn was quick to add, "We're not going to stand and fuck around. Let's get this going." Vaughn, now an executive with the Miller commercial division, also has left a slightly tarnished record at the courthouse over the years, which includes receiving 45 tickets for moving violations and a 1985 conviction for resisting arrest.

The Miller home turned out to be filled with unremarkable traditional furniture, some banal starving-artist-sale-type artwork--little of obvious resale value beyond a silver service for 24 and some jewelry.

There were, in addition to all of Tincy's shoes, closet after closet of expensive-looking dresses, some of which no doubt played a part in Tincy's being named among the best dressed society women in Dallas in both 1994 and 1996 by the Crystal Charity Ball.

During the tour, Collier noticed "certain valuable pieces of jewelry worn by Geraldine [Tincy] Miller in recent family photographs which were displayed in the Miller residence." But they weren't among the jewelry found in the search.

Collier's legal papers make note of the fact that Tincy left the house with two suitcases, which the marshals did not search. "Geraldine Miller may have hidden certain property," the papers conclude.

Pronske says, "That's just not true." He claims she was on her way out of town to meet her husband in Arizona when the Collier group arrived.

A few weeks later, she filed suit against Collier and Stonehenge for "invasion of privacy" and "civil rights violations" against a "highly respected member of the community." In this sideshow battle, Collier denies any wrongdoing and says Tincy Miller's claims are "barred by her own illegal acts" and "the doctrine of unclean hands."

Two weeks after the house search, Vance Miller appeared under subpoena to give Collier a deposition. He brought almost none of the relevant financial documents such as the personal tax returns that she had requested, and seemed to let her know right off what he thought of her efforts.

"We had the video camera and microphones and everything set up for Mr. Miller to sit at one chair. He came in and sat in another chair and said he wasn't moving," she recalls, adding that the equipment had to be rearranged to meet Miller's wishes.

Over the next four hours, under penalty of perjury, Miller told Collier that he makes a mere $250,000 a year in salary as CEO of the Miller real estate conglomerate--and pays every penny to the company to satisfy a debt. Amazingly, he said he couldn't remember what the debt was for, what it started at, or what it amounts to now.

"You don't recall what the debt was that you pay your entire paycheck to Henry S. Miller...?" Collier asks in a videotape of the deposition.

"That's correct," replies Miller, who says more than 35 times during the session that he can't recall basic things about his personal finances. "I guess I get a salary from Pilgrim's Pride--beef, whatever it is."

He says he spends money that "I borrow from family and friends and their companies," but he said he couldn't name anyone beyond his father.

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