By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
FULTON – Piano teacher Florence Aldridge wants an apology, her $550,000-plus estate and personal family items she said she’s due from Lee County relatives.
Her nephew, state Rep. Brian Aldridge, repeatedly said Wednesday in chancery court that he just followed his father’s orders to write checks, which evidence shows were funded by his aunt’s money.
Her brother-in-law, Brian’s father Louis Aldridge, declined to answer questions about his federal income tax reports and loans, exerting his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
These actions and more came during the only full day of action in a civil lawsuit Florence Aldridge filed against the men, Louis’ wife Janice and their Touched By An Angel Ministries, which apparently benefited from Florence’s money.
She sued to recover her estate, which she claims was misappropriated while she was ill and Louis Aldridge had her power of attorney.
Chancellor Michael Malski, who asked his own questions during the hearing, seemed mystified that Brian Aldridge was the charity’s chief executive officer for 15 years and never knew anything about its finances controlled by his father.
“What you’re telling the court is that you would rather look the other way as CEO of a corporation rather than buck your father?” Malski said during Brian Aldridge’s testimony.
“I don’t know if I’d say, look the other way,” the state legislator said. “All I can say … I just didn’t put my focus there, I put my energy elsewhere, which was those camps.”
TBAAM is a year-round Lee County camp ministry for adults and children with disabilities.
The trial began in August but was delayed when Louis and Janice Aldridge filed for bankruptcy. It will not resume until Dec. 20 in Tupelo because their attorney, Tim Hudson of Columbus, has a conflict. Malski told all the parties he wants to get the lawsuit wrapped up before the end of the year.
Under cross-examination by Hudson, 67-year-old Florence Aldridge denied she made a “pass” at her brother-in-law and then moved out of the house into a small camper trailer. She also denied changing her will to benefit Louis and to a financial agreement for an apartment she would live in at the camp.
Her attorney, Rhett Russell, spent most of the morning laying out how her estate was spent – funding Louis’ for-profit TBAAM Enterprises business, the camp ministry, trips to Hawaii, a cruise, a timeshare condo, personal bank loans and even a new suit for a minister who was ill.
Florence Aldridge filed the lawsuit in 2008 after she discovered her assets were gone. Brian Aldridge and TBAAM were added later when an investigation showed some of her funds went to them.