Rep. Aldridge, parents face charges

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – State Rep. Brian Aldridge and his parents face indictment on criminal embezzlement charges associated with a relative’s estate.
Aldridge, a Republican, has represented House District 17 in Lee County since 2004. He reportedly was on a trip out of state Tuesday but was expected to turn himself in today. Specifics of the charges against him will not be available until his arrest.
If convicted, his resignation from office is likely.
His parents, Louis Aldridge and Janice Aldridge, who divorced in November 2012, also are charged with embezzlement.
Convictions for all three of them could mean imprisonment and financial penalties. None could be contacted Tuesday for comment.
Mrs. Aldridge apparently turned herself in to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday morning. Louis Aldridge did so later in the day. Bond for each is set at $5,000.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s Public Integrity Division brought the charges to a Lee County grand jury for indictments dated June 28.
The charges stem from a 2008 lawsuit filed by Florence Aldridge, the widow of Louis’ brother. In 2005, she came to Tupelo after her husband’s death when Louis and Janice promised to care for her while she suffered deep depression complicated by bipolar disorder.
From 2003 to mid-2008, she granted Louis durable power of attorney to look after her assets while she could not.
But in 2008, she discovered nearly all of her $700,000 assets and family treasures were gone. Tupelo attorneys Rhett and Frank Russell took her case to court.
Today, 68-year-old Florence Aldridge lives in a Pontotoc County nursing home and is believed virtually destitute. Until her health failed again, she lived in Tupelo and taught piano lessons.
The public indictments, under state law related to trustees, accuse:
• Janice Aldridge of two counts – that on May 27, 2005, she embezzled more than $500 from Florence Aldridge’s Wachovia Bank account; from Feb. 1, 2006 to July 5, 2007, she converted for her own use more than $500 from her sister-in-law’s AmSouth Bank account as part of a common scheme.
• Louis Aldridge of three counts – from Feb. 1, 2005 to Oct. 15, 2005, he embezzled more than $500 from Florence’s Wachovia Bank account; From Sept. 20, 2006 to Feb. 25, 2007, he embezzled more than $500 from her AmSouth Bank account; and from Feb. 15, 2005 to Nov. 15, 2005, he embezzled more than $500 from her Bank of America account, all three counts as part of a common scheme.
Court records show the amounts in question could total into many thousands of dollars.
Documents in the civil lawsuit show the Aldridges spent Florence’s money on casinos, cash, cars, vehicle repairs, clothing, and numerous trips including to Colorado, Grand Cayman Islands and Hawaii. One of the Hawaii trips was Brian Aldridge’s honeymoon.
The statute by which they were indicted sets potential punishment at not more than 10 years in custody and a fine not more than $25,000 or both per count.
After lengthy legal proceedings in 2011, Chancellor Michael Malski termed Louis Aldridge’s behavior “monumental impropriety and malfeasance” and ordered him to repay Florence $552,000. He also ordered his former charity, Touched By An Angel Ministries Inc., to come up with $140,000 Louis directed to it while he held Florence’s power of attorney.
Brian Aldridge was chief executive officer of the charity, which operated a camp for disabled children and adults. His father once was its chief financial officer.
While Malski initially cleared Brian Aldridgeof fiduciary responsibility to his aunt, he sharply chided him for his lack of attention to the charity’s finances, which were under Louis Aldridge’s control until late 2011.
In May 2012, though, Malski ordered Brian Aldridge to repay his aunt $218,355 taken from his aunt’s estate.
The judge said in his court order that even though Brian was not personally liable for her loss by his father, Brian was legally responsible for the charity through which Louis Aldridge funneled some of her money.
Brian Aldridge and TBAAM Inc. appealed the decisions to the Mississippi Supreme Court, but no rulings have come from there yet. He also sought a new trial over his aunt’s estate.
In the meantime, the Russells counter-sued to ask the high court to overturn Malski’s award on Brian Aldridge and TBAAM, saying Malski’s figure was much too low.
The charity established in 1996 was dissolved legally in September 2012.
A parallel for-profit catering business, TBAAM Enterprises Inc., was established by Louis Aldridge in 2002 and was dissolved in 2004 although Aldridge continued to use it to handle funds from his sister-in-law’s estate and sometimes financial activity associated with the charity.
In August 2011, Louis and Janice Aldridge filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection.
The bankruptcy case was closed in April 2013 with $428,950 in claims discharged without payment, the court trustee reported.
Brian Aldridge’s legislative salary continues to be garnished to help repay his court ordered amount.
Aldridge, who served as president of the Mississippi Legislative Conservative Coalition for 2011-12, first was elected to an open House seat in 2003. He has comfortably won re-election twice.
He currently serves as chair of the Interstate Cooperation Committee and as a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
He has been considered a solid vote for both former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and his Republican successor, Phil Bryant.
patsy.brumfield@journalinc.com