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May 9, 2011

Family hurt by fund theft charges

PARKER COUNTY — According to the family of Sgt. Rusty Arnold, Arnold’s widow received a total of $5,000 from the fund set up to benefit the fallen officer’s family — less one-third of what they believe was collected.

Lou Ann Arnold of Stephenville, the mother of Parker County sheriff’s deputy Rusty Arnold killed in December in an off duty wreck, said the March discovery of an alleged theft from the benefit account has dealt the grieving family a second blow.

Former Parker County investigator Seth Miller, a good friend of the family’s, set up a benefit account days after Rusty Arnold was critically injured in a wreck. When he later died, Miller served as the family liason, collecting money for the family and handling certain memorial service arrangements, Arnold said.

A Parker County grand jury indicted Miller Thursday on the state jail felony charge of theft of between $1,500 and $20,000.

At minimum, they believe at least $11,000 is missing from the benefit bank account, according to Arnold.

“The cash will never be accounted for,” Arnold said.

Bigger than the alleged theft is the the betrayal the family feels.  

“The biggest thing was deceiving us,” Arnold said. “How could a friend do another friend that way. I just don’t believe it.”

Miller, reached by phone Friday, declined to comment.

The indictment alleges Miller stole money belonging to Kelsey Arnold, Rusty Arnold’s wife, between January and February on 11 occasions.

More than $500 was taken 10 of those occasions, the indictment states.

“We did request [an arrest] warrant this morning,” Parker County Assistant District Attorney Robert DuBoise said Friday afternoon. Bond was expected to be set at $7,500.

Lou Ann Arnold began asking questions when things didn’t add up after her daughter-in-law told her how much money she recieved when the account was closed in March.

Kelsey Arnold was given $4,000 when the benefit fund was closed and had previously received $1,000, according to her mother-in-law.

Lou Ann Arnold said she and her husband donated $1,000 themselves and a person she spoke with in Springtown knew of others who had donated thousands of dollars.

That’s when the other person took the information to the sheriff’s office, according to Arnold.

Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler said he received the information in the evening and the next morning Miller was terminated and the case referred to the Texas Rangers for investigation.

According to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education records, Miller’s employment with the sheriff’s office ended March 30.

Arnold said she called him afterward but Miller reportedly gave her little explanation or apology.

He indicated that he was glad the situation was brought to light, Arnold said.

“He said it was a mistake,” she said.   

Arnold said she was given a list Thursday by the district attorney’s office of dozens and dozens of documented donors.

Arnold said she’d asked Miller twice for a list of those who gave so they could send thank you notes but he never provided it.

Arnold also says Miller hid from her the identity of a man who wanted to set up a scholarship fund for her grandson.

“When I read the list, I just started crying because of the amount of people that gave,” Arnold said. “Just to know Rusty touched so many people.”

Attorneys, bailbondsmen, prominent people, grade school teachers of her son, long distant family friends, some who gave thousands, some who gave $10 but more than they could afford were on the list, according to Arnold.

“I felt awful because I hadn’t sent a thank you card,” Arnold said. “We acknowledge their generosity and we’re sorry we weren’t able to acknowledge it in a timely manner.”  

Any funds returned to the family will be used to benefit Kelsey Arnold and her son, Arnold said.

The family is also revisiting their grief.

“It’s had a real bad impact on us,” Arnold said. “The timing — that March we were beginning to start some of our healing process.”

Each time she thinks about the incident, she relives her son’s death, Arnold said.

“[Miller] was the one that did the last call at his memorial service,” Arnold said.

The whole ordeal has been hard on her daughter-in-law, as well, according to Arnold.

“She doesn’t need this,” Arnold said. “Now it’s probably going to court. There’s not going to be an end to it for a long time.”

Arnold said she hopes Miller serves the maximum sentence, pays the money back and is stripped of his peace officer’s license.

“He’s a dirty cop in my opinion,” Arnold said.

In addition to the prosecution of the theft case, the district attorney’s office also faces another issue because of Miller’s former position as an investigator for the sheriff’s office.  

“Obviously, yes, any case in which he played a part, we’re going to have to take a look at,” DuBoise said.

 

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