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Woman guilty of exploiting elderly York woman: ‘I put her first in almost everything’

By Jonathan McFadden
jmcfadden@heraldonline.com
G0G7TV8Q0.14
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Patton

YORK Shirley Patton – who for two years supervised caregivers in Margie Miller’s home, ensured she was bathed and fed and held her power of attorney – pleaded guilty Tuesday to cashing $240,000 worth of the York woman’s life insurance checks.

Circuit Court Judge Derham Cole sentenced Patton, 54, to four years in prison, followed by five years of probation. decided. She also must pay restitution, with the amount determined later.

Patton this week was standing trial for the second time. She was charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult and breach of trust with fraudulent intent, accused of stealing money from two life insurance policies belonging to Miller.

Police and prosecutors say she instructed the insurance company to send Miller’s checks to a Charlotte address, then deposited them in a Bank of America checking account. Miller, who died in September 2012, never saw a dime. She was 87.

She admitted to spending $78,000 on repairs to her home in Waxhaw, N.C., and paying herself a $26,000 salary.

Patton’s first trial ended in a mistrial after one juror refused to convict her.

By Tuesday afternoon, after prosecutors presented their case, Patton pleaded guilty to breach of trust. In exchange, E.B. Springs, the assistant 16th Circuit solicitor prosecuting Patton, dropped the exploitation charge.

But Haskell Patton said afterward that his wife felt “forced” into the plea deal by a “malicious” prosecutor and several witnesses who he said conspired to have Miller declared incompetent so they could gain ownership of land she owned.

His wife, he said, “just got in the way.”

The couple’s 17-year marriage nearly ended, Haskell Patton said, because his wife took too much time away from her family and job to care for Miller.

York County Probate Judge Carolyn Rogers testified Tuesday morning that she ruled in early 2011 that Miller was not competent to make decisions about her late sister’s estate or finances.

Miller’s sister, Mamie Miller, died in October 2010, leaving two life insurance policies for her sister and naming Margie Miller in her will as the personal representative responsible for settling her estate.

A month later, Patton, who worked as an office manager at Rock Hill’s Premier Health Clinic – where Margie Miller saw her primary care physician – was given her power of attorney.

Wendy Duda, executive director of the York County Council on Aging and a longtime friend of the Miller sisters, testified Tuesday that she challenged the legality of the document, unwilling to believe that Miller would make that decision herself.

In late 2010, a now-retired probate judge froze all of Margie Miller’s bank accounts and ordered that she undergo neurological evaluation.

In April 2011, Rogers, who had taken over as probate judge, ruled that the document was “null and void” because Patton, to whom the document ceded power of attorney, also had signed it as a witness.

“The agent named power of attorney should never be a witness,” Rogers said. “That makes the document invalid.”

Duda also testified that in 2007 Margie Miller suffered a stroke that left her unable to write. When signing legal documents, she endorsed them with an “X.” The power of attorney document was signed in November 2010 and contains Margie Miller’s full name as the principal.

While speaking with her in April 2011, Rogers said she realized the “very pleasant” Margie Miller also could be “easily persuaded...easily led.”

Rogers authorized Patton to continue caring for Margie Miller’s “day-to-day” needs while a hearing on a dispute regarding who would be her guardian could be scheduled.

“Frankly, there was no one else,” Rogers said, adding that Patton seemed to be taking good care of Margie Miller.

In July, Rogers ordered everyone – including Patton, Duda, Margie Miller’s attorney and her cousin – to give all of Margie Miller’s financial assets to a guardian ad litem, who would turn them over to the court.

Rogers determined that a conservator, a third-party chosen to manage an incapacitated person’s financial affairs, should be selected so the same person caring for Miller’s day-to-day needs would not also oversee her money.

Two months later, stakeholders gave the court Margie Miller’s financial assets, but no one reported the life insurance policies. Rogers appointed Patton and Margie Miller’s cousin as her co-guardians, while Palmetto Trust, based in Spartanburg, became responsible for Margie Miller’s finances. She ordered Patton to continue providing for her basic needs.

After that hearing, Margie Miller’s attorney told Rogers he learned of life insurance policies that had not been discussed earlier.

When Rogers asked Patton about those policies, she denied knowing anything about them. Court officials later learned she cashed the checks in May and June that year.

Patton admitted her wrongdoing in probate court and was ordered to pay back $123,000. Rogers contacted police after Patton stopped making payments, still owing $112,000.

Tuesday afternoon, Patton decided to plead guilty, though it was initially unclear if she understood what she was pleading to, or why.

“I want to be able to see my children,” Patton said after several pauses. “I can’t take the chance” of the jury returning a guilty verdict.

One of her two teenage sons is septic after suffering from diabetes and an infection from a broken leg and ankle, said Phil Smith, one of two public defenders representing her.

Patton said she spent days away from her home and family to care for Margie Miller. She was on call around the clock whenever other caregivers were unable to work, and often cared for Margie Miller instead of reporting to her day job.

“I put her first in almost everything,” Patton said, adding that she became overwhelmed with acting as Margie Miller’s caregiver, accountant, nurse and power of attorney and tending to her ill son.

“All that burden was on me,” she said, “and no one was there to help me.”

After the plea, Haskell Patton said his wife took the fall for other caregivers who used Margie Miller’s money to buy cars and cell phones. He said a York police officer told his wife to get a post office box to keep Margie Miller’s money away from the others. He also said Margie Miller went with his wife to the bank when she cashed the checks.

“Margie Miller was not crazy,” he said. “Ms. Miller was happy” and loved his wife, so much so she would have “given her everything.

“Now, I have to go home and tell my sons their mother’s in jail,” he said. “Justice was not done today.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082
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