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.

For a man at the head of such a large corporation, some of his answers strain credulity. For instance:

Q: How much cash do you have on you?
A: I don't know. Probably $50.
Q: Where did you get it?
A: Where did I get it? Well, I've just carried it around for some time.
Q: That was not my question, sir. Where did you get the cash?

A: I don't have a recollection, I use a little cash, you know. I just don't have a recollection.

Miller also claims that contributions made in his name to politicians such as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are made with money "my wife or my dad gave...on my behalf."

Collier later asks Miller again about his contributions over the past 10 years: "In each and every instance, those contributions were made in your name but not from your funds, correct?"

"Yes," he answers.
If that is true, those contributions would violate federal campaign-finance law. According to rules posted on the Federal Election Commission's Web site: "Contributions made in the name of another are prohibited."

But Pronske insists that is not the case: "My interpretation is that his wife and father were the source of the funds, which became his."

Beyond that, Miller's attempts to portray himself as all but penniless tie him to some pretty embarrassing explanations.

He claims, for instance, that he sold his membership at the exclusive Preston Trail Golf Club to his children back in 1980, when they were teenagers. Apparently, the kiddos, one of whom is barred from belonging to the all-male club by virtue of the fact that she is female, bought the membership with money their grandfather gave them at birth.

Of course Miller, not the kids, uses the membership. He's there nearly every day, playing cards with his buddies or hitting the meticulously groomed links. It's difficult to imagine that the immigrant laborers who mow the well-tended grounds at Preston Trail are worth more on paper than Miller, and get in more trouble if they fall behind on payments for their used pickups.

Phil Hutchison, an owner of Stonehenge, the feds' collection partner, says: "Kind of reminds you of J.R...To us, it's obvious what he's doing. He's hiding behind his family, his businesses to escape living up to obligations to us and the taxpayer.

"Most of the people we deal with spend at least some time trying to negotiate a settlement. That hasn't been the case with him. It's been a fight from day one."

At several hearings scheduled for later this month, the dozens of legal issues that have opened up will be hashed out in the federal courthouse: Miller's memory lapses, Collier's home tour, maybe even how that money got in Miller's wallet.

And, most likely, another year of cotillions, polo matches, and golf games will pass before much is done.

Shifting assets, losing one's memory on the witness stand, playing dumb..."It's a way of doing it," says Collier. "But you don't usually see it from people of his standing. It's not what you expect from people who want status and respect.

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