By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Louis Aldridge’s “monumental impropriety and malfeasance” reduced his once comfortable sister-in-law to near poverty, Judge Mike Malski said Tuesday.
After 21⁄2 days of testimony and evidence, Malski ordered Aldridge of Tupelo to repay $552,000 and his former charity, Touched By An Angel Ministries Inc., to come up with the $140,000 Louis directed to it while he held power of attorney for Florence Aldridge, his brother’s widow.
Florence sued Louis and his wife Janice in 2008, after she discovered the loss of her estate and family treasures she’d entrusted to them while she suffered from a lengthy depression. She included their son, state Rep. Brian Aldridge, and TBAAM when she learned of the funds diversion.
Brian Aldridge is CEO of TBAAM, which operates a camp for disabled children and adults. The judge cleared him of any fiduciary responsibility to his aunt, but chided him for his lack of attention to the charity’s finances, which were under the control of Louis Aldridge until recently.
Malski said that while Janice did not sign any documents, she assumed a fiduciary relationship when she agreed to care for her sister-in-law.
He termed “looting” what Louis had done to his sister-in-law’s property.
The judge said that while Brian never received a salary and their for-profit catering business, TBAAM Enterprises Inc., showed a profit only one year, the couple and their son managed to spend lavishly on trips, a timeshare in Florida, personal debts, mortgages, car repairs and contributions to the Republican Party. Brian’s honeymoon to Hawaii was one of several trips Florence’s money financed, as well as tuition for another relative.
“Few of those disbursements were made for or on behalf of Florence,” Malski noted.
Instead, Louis Aldridge sold her home, cashed in a $30,000 certificate of deposit and paid a penalty for early withdrawal, which he failed to report on her 2007 taxes he prepared. She’s still paying that tax liability from her meager income from social security and piano lessons.
Louis also raided her other bank accounts and investments.
“What has been result?” the judge asked rhetorically. “Florence has been reduced from comfort to a widow woman with poor credit, who rents an apartment with no retirement savings, continues to work, with little income except Social Security and a small pension while she pays off a tax lien caused by Louis.”
Malski also cited Louis Aldridge for “check kiting,” which involved moving money from one account to another to cover bad checks. And he raised questions about state sales taxes, as well as the non-reporting of income from Florence’s estate on the couple’s federal taxes across several years.
Frank Russell, one of Florence’s attorneys, said he’s been contacted by investigators with the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office looking into possible state violations related to what the lawsuit revealed about the financial dealings.
TBAAM’s attorney T.K. Moffett of Tupelo said later that it’s still unclear how Mississippi views payment of judgments by a charity.
“But the case is over against Brian,” he noted.
Next, attorneys will try to find a new hearing date for Malski to consider punitive damages.
As Tuesday’s hearing ended, Florence Aldridge unzipped a clothing bag, which was quickly deposited on a courtroom table.
It contained at least one of her fur stoles she’d asked to be returned.
A bankruptcy court ultimately will decide how Louis and Janice Aldridge’s assets are distributed.
While she said she wasn’t overly optimistic about the return of her money, Florence said, “I just hope I get a little of it back.”
Return assets, judge orders Louis Aldridge
TUPELO – Louis Aldridge looted his sister-in-law’s assets and should return them, a chancellor ordered Tuesday.
Touched By An Angel Ministries, which he established, also owes her the $140,100 Louis transferred to it from her accounts.
Whether Florence Aldridge will see any of her nearly $700,000 and family treasures is anybody’s guess since Louis and his wife, Janice, are in bankruptcy.
“We just want to see that this never happens to anybody else again,” said Frank Russell of Tupelo, who represented Florence Aldridge with his brother, Rhett.
Their 67-year-old client, who teaches private piano lessons, reacted to Judge Michael Malski’s bench order with, “Justice has reigned.”
Meanwhile, the Tupelo couple may be under scrutiny by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office.
Tuesday, it wasn’t clear whether the state investigation raises questions about sales taxes or allegations of fraud or violations of the state’s vulnerable adults laws.
No judgment was awarded against State Rep. Brian Aldridge, Louis and Janice’s son and the director of Touched By An Angel camp, because Malski said he had no fiduciary responsibility to his aunt.
Florence Aldridge came to Tupelo in 2005 after the death of her husband, Louis’ brother. He and his wife promised to care for her while she suffered deep depression complicated by bipolar disorder.
She granted Louis durable power of attorney to look after her assets while she could not.
In 2008, she filed her lawsuit when she discovered all her assets were gone.