There is a maddening irony in the fact that those who lost money entrusted to an “officer of the court” must now turn to the courts to try to recover some portion of their devastated estates.
Gulfport attorney Woodrow W. Pringle III may have stolen almost $2.4 million from bank accounts he managed for children and adults unable to handle their own affairs.
Summoned to Gulfport, where he was born and raised and still practiced law, the 56-year-old Pringle left his home in Windemere, Fla., and checked into a luxury hotel in Orlando in December 2010. There, according to a medical examiner’s ruling, he committed suicide.
On the morning of his death, Pringle emailed Harrison County Chancery Clerk John McAdams, saying: “I want to apologize for abusing your trust. I abused the trust of my family, friends, judges and so many others. I was able to do this for so long because people trusted me and believed in me. I am truly sorry and want you and everyone else to know that no one ever knew this was happening.”
Since then, one lawsuit has been filed against Harrison County and two against McAdams over Pringle’s misdeeds. McAdams also is suing Pringle’s widow on behalf of seven victims whose money allegedly went to buy the Pringles’ house.
The purpose of these lawsuits is to recover money, not to uncover how Pringle was able to dupe so many for so long.
What is certain is that chancery clerks, including McAdams, have for years failed to follow a state law that requires them to compose a list each year of guardians or conservators who are delinquent in filing accountings of the money they manage for children and vulnerable adults. Chancery Court judges then have the authority to demand those accountings from delinquent filers, the law says.
Pringle managed such accounts for McAdams and the chancery judges of Harrison County. Hours before his death, Pringle acknowledged betraying the trust those officials placed in him. But more than a year later, it is still unclear why those officials did not do more -- or at the very least, what the law requires -- to verify that trust.
The lawyer for McAdams, Donald Dornan of Biloxi, said: “We were all shocked … when Woody Pringle had embezzled funds from all these vulnerable adults and minors over a period of years. Now that we’ve investigated it, we know that he was very meticulous in presenting falsified accountings to the chancery judges and secretly depositing guardianship and conservatorship funds into his own trust account. Nobody knew what he was doing.”
Pringle started stealing as early as 2004, according to the forensic accounting undertaken after his death. He kept getting by with it with “some song and dance … something he made up,” as one attorney put it.
“He seemed to know what he was doing,” McAdams said of Pringle.
But why didn’t anyone else know?
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The Trust That Pringle Stole Must Be Restored