Vance Miller lies.
So says a federal judge in ruling that the real estate magnate cannot keep his membership at pricey Preston Trail Golf Club while owing U.S. taxpayers $26 million.
The scion of the Henry S. Miller real estate dynasty refuses to pay a whopping debt he owes on several failed 1980s real estate projects, debts that eventually were paid by U.S. taxpayers in the savings-and-loan bailout. But does this affect Miller and his grand lifestyle? Hardly. He continues to live in a Highland Park mansion, backs GOP politicos with tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions, and parties with Dallas' society crowd.
In ruling recently against one particular Miller dodge--in which he tried to pass his $58,000 country club membership on to his kids instead of letting it go toward the debt--U.S. Magistrate Judge John Tolle found that Miller made statements that "are not true."
The story is this:
On October 15, Dallas attorney Brenda Collier, who works for a company attempting to collect the government's money, was going through Miller's Beverly Drive mansion looking for things of value, as a court order allowed.
She noticed on the wall in Miller's study a stock certificate for his membership at Preston Trail. Because the membership has a cash value--and is not by law protected from confiscation--Collier decided to go after it. She asked Tolle for a so-called turnover order.
Miller, at a hearing in late January, told the judge that the membership wasn't his to give. Under oath, he said he had held the membership since 1963, when he bought it for $4,000. But he decided in 1980 to sell the membership to his four children, who all at the time were under 21 and unable to actually become members. The minor children paid for the membership with $11,000 that their great-grandfather had given them, Miller testified. He told the judge he cashed out the kids' passbooks and kept the money.
But Collier brought up a host of things at the hearing that apparently convinced the judge it really hadn't happened like that.
According to Preston Trail club manager John Green, the club's bylaws don't permit anyone to sell their memberships, except through the club.
If a member quits or dies, the membership is turned back to the club, and it sells it to someone else--only males over the age of 21--and distributes the proceeds, Green explained to the judge.
The Miller kids never used the membership, and Vance Miller remained listed in club records as a member. He was even on the board of directors, Collier pointed out.
Miller testified that he sold the stock to a partnership made up of his children. But Greg Miller, a son who was 14 at the time he supposedly bought his father's membership, testified he was unaware of any partnership agreement.
What might have clinched it for the judge was testimony by Miller and his son that Greg Miller removed the stock certificate from the wall of the Beverly Drive house only hours after Collier came through in October.
"That gets very close to obstruction of justice," Tolle told the Millers and their attorney, Gerrit Pronske, referring to a possible criminal violation rather a civil matter. "It is not a matter for this court to consider, but it is getting right on the edge."
In his written order, Tolle found that the membership was surely Vance Miller's. In a strongly worded opinion, Tolle said: "The court further finds that Mr. Miller's statements about an alleged transfer made in 1980 of the stock to an alleged partnership of his then minor children are not true. The court further finds that Miller's children did not know of any such alleged partnership. The court further finds that [Preston Trail] did not learn about the alleged transfer of stock by Miller...until between seven and 10 days before the hearing in this matter."
So, will Miller be joining the rest of the working stiffs this spring at Tenison or Cedar Crest or some other local muny course?
Despite the spanking in court, Miller will be playing for months and maybe years to come at Preston Trail.
Pronske appealed the ruling and asked Tolle that the membership not change hands until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans makes its decision. Tolle agreed and accepted a $58,000 cash bond put up by Miller.
Pronske declined to answer questions on the matter when contacted last week, but said he would make a list of the Dallas Observer's questions to run by Miller.
"That story you did was real shitty," Pronske said, referring to the January 15 cover story ("Deadbeat") on his client. Asked to elaborate, Pronske said he was disturbed by the publication of a photo of Miller picking his nose. "I'm sure you had fun with that. It isn't a very polite thing to do. There is no journalistic reason to do things like that."
Pronske declined to comment on anything else in the 7,000-word piece.
According to Collier, Pronske and company have complained to various judges and magistrates about the Observer's interest in the case.
In response to all the carping, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan issued a protective order last week sealing tapes and records of depositions Miller and his wife, Geraldine "Tincy" Miller, gave earlier this month.
"Miller started to refuse to answer questions. Pronske said, 'We don't want to see this in the Observer,'" Collier recalls.
Neither side asked for the gag order, but in Collier's view, Pronske and the Millers made it difficult to proceed if the Millers' depositions were to be subject to public view.
While the Millers and their lawyer worked to close off the prospect of further exposure in the press, they were also grappling with several other setbacks handed to them by Tolle.
The judge, who retired on February 28 and passed the case to another magistrate, called Vance Miller to task for failing to remember even the most rudimentary things about his personal finances during a deposition last October with Collier.
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Collier was attempting to learn about Miller's income and finances as president and chief executive officer of the Henry S. Miller real estate companies. But Miller, under oath, answered that he couldn't remember how the money he was carrying got in his wallet, or much of anything else.
"This is a man who runs the largest real estate company in Texas, and he does not know anything about his own assets. That is not credible," Collier told the judge. She claimed that when Miller was not saying "I can't recall" and "I don't remember," he was also being caught in at least one outright lie.
Tolle ordered Miller to pay Collier's legal expenses for the deposition (she has billed him $10,000) and ordered Miller to acquaint himself with his finances and do it all over again.
The judge called Miller's performance in the first deposition "a masterpiece of obfuscation.