Restitution falls short in repaying breach of trust

A former funeral home director has avoided jail by agreeing to pay restitution in an Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) case.  As executor of Vida C. Miller’s estate, Wade Sheffield chose to use trust funds as a bank to keep afloat troubled businesses belonging to himself and his former son-in-law instead of distributing assets to two charitable organizations as per Mrs. Miller’s stated wishes.   

E0D could go on for a long time about this one, but we’ll try to keep it brief with these main points. 

1)  While it is unfortunate that two charities were denied the rightful use of designated funds, Mrs. Miller was Sheffield’s true victim through his violating her trust and disregarding her plan for the final distribution of her assets. 
2)  With an estate of respectable although not lavish proportions, the point is once again worth reiterating that anyone’s estate can be targeted for IRA.  Wealth is relative, a huge bounty doesn’t have to be the prize.  Grave robbers are most often emboldened by means and opportunity.   
3)  The violation of Mrs. Miller’s property rights took place via a private arrangement — outside the purview of any court or other supervision.  Don’t think cases like this don’t occur every day.  They just happen quietly.  
4)  Wade Sheffield might have gotten away with his “mismanagement” had Mrs. Miller not left her money to a high profile beneficiary with access to legal counsel and the community standing to command attention from the Bell County District Attorney’s office.  An individual with less resources and clout would likely have been out of luck!  As a private citizen, the Bell County D.A.’s office was not particularly cooperative with EoD in providing details about the time and location of Sheffield’s sentencing.  We understand caseloads, limited time and financial resources, etc.  So do IRA practitioners.  That’s why the number of these cases will continue to grow. 
5)  Restitution sounds good, but let’s look at the practicalities.  If he pays only the $500 monthly minimum payment due to each charity, it will take the 71-year-old Sheffield more than 32 years to repay the entire amount.  Who really thinks that is going to happen?  And by the way, Mrs. Miller has been dead for nearly ten years — what about the interest that money could have generated? 
6)  Or, if the money had been spent by its intended recipients (entities involved with heart and arthritis research), could those funds have been resources that came in at a pivotal time to allow extra labor hours or equipment purchases that ultimately had a direct contribution to some important research development that could impact unknown numbers of people? 

Many of us get up on a daily basis to work hard providing for our families.  We live below our means, are financially responsible, take pride in our accomplishments and value the idea that someday, our lifetime accumulation of assets may serve as an example and resource for our own children to continue a tradition of ethical behavior and honest dealings.  Mrs. Miller might have wanted her good will to serve as an example for others.  She certainly wanted her assets distributed in a manner that could potentially benefit untold numbers of people. 

Wade Sheffield denied Mrs. Miller her final wishes and we’ll never know the benefit denied countless others through the involuntary redistribution of Mrs. Miller’s assets. 

Sheffield given 10 years probation
Paul A. Romer
January 31, 2008

BELTON – Wade Sheffield was sentenced to 10 years probation Wednesday, avoiding jail time after he pleaded guilty in 264th District Court to mismanaging the trust fund a woman had willed to charity.

The judgment allows the 71-year-old Sheffield to continue working and pay restitution to the Heart Research Department at Scott & White Memorial Hospital and the Heart of Texas Branch of the Arthritis Foundation. As the executor of Vida C. Miller’s will, Sheffield was responsible after her death in November 1998 to disperse her assets to the two charities.

Instead, Sheffield, who has no prior criminal history, used the fund as a bank from which he loaned money to businesses that eventually failed and were unable to pay the trust back, prosecutor Nelson Barnes said.

“He just basically tried to keep a bad business afloat,” Barnes said. “He mismanaged (the trust) so much that it made it criminal.”

Sheffield made loans to his own former business, Heritage Funeral Home in Harker Heights, and to a corporation owned by his former son-in-law, Jay Tankersley. Both businesses failed and were unable to repay the loans, Barnes said.

“We didn’t find any evidence of trips to Mexico or anything that dramatic,” Barnes said.

Mrs. Miller’s trust was valued at $431,953, according to Bell County records.

The plea agreement calls for Sheffield to pay $389,820 in restitution, half to Scott & White and half to the Arthritis Foundation.

Barnes said the restitution amount was lower than what Mrs. Miller’s trust was valued at because Sheffield used some of the money for legitimate purposes, such as attorney fees or fees associated with selling a house.

The ruling calls for Sheffield to pay each organization at least $500 a month.

Barnes said the mismanagement was uncovered by representatives of Scott & White who inquired about the hospital’s share of the trust.