The Georgia Supreme Court has refused to authorize a receiver to hold the assets of a dealership's comptroller who allegedly embezzled approximately $69,000 and then allededly torched the store to cover up the fraud, causing an estimated $1 million in damages.
The insurance company failed to demonstrate that a receivership is justified, the state Supreme Court held.
Renee Dorminey was the comptroller at Prince Chevrolet-Oldsmobile Inc. in Tifton, which was badly damaged in a 1998 fire. She later was indicted on state charges of theft and arson, pleaded innocent in Worth County Superior Court, and is free pending trial, according to her defense lawyer, Clarence Miller of Sylvester. No trial date has been set.
Prince's property insurer, Chrysler Insurance Co., paid the dealership about $1 million to cover the fire loss. Prince has relocated to a new location in Tifton.
The insurance company has filed a suit against Dorminey to recoup that money. Chrysler
Insurance is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chrysler Financial Co. and writes policies for dealerships, including non-DaimlerChrysler dealerships.
At Chrysler Insurance's request, Superior Court Judge Gary McCorvey appointed a temporary receiver, who took charge of about $200,000 worth of assets from Dorminey, including the proceeds of the sale of her home, to partially satisfy a potential judgment if she loses the civil suit. McCorvey declined to continue the receivership after a hearing, however, and
Chrysler Insurance appealed.
A lawyer for Chrysler Insurance, Paul Hines of Southfield, Mich., said the situation is unusual because few suspected arsonists have assets available that could be used to satisfy a civil judgment.
The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously upheld that decision. Chrysler Insurance failed to prove that the money Dorminey received from selling her house was related directly to the alleged crimes, it said. Instead, the insurer 'showed the mere possibility that some embezzled funds were used to pay for the house' and, therefore, there was no direct connection with the insurer's claim.
The court noted that Dorminey had invoked her constitutional privilege against self-incrimination in refusing to answer a question about whether she illegally had taken money from Prince and used it for her house.
'Even accepting that the alleged arson of the dealership was part and parcel of the purported scheme of embezzlement and theft, and therefore that the insurance payment was inextricably tied to the stolen funds, Chrysler Insurance still did not demonstrate that the receivership was warranted,' the state Supreme Court said.
AN `EASY MARK'
The court did not address the merits of the insurance company's civil claim.
Miller, Dorminey's lawyer, described his client as an 'easy mark' for blame in the fire, which she denies setting. Miller also said that if the arson had been committed to cover up an embezzlement scheme, as Chrysler Insurance contends, 'nobody has come up with any evidence of what records the fire destroyed' related to the purported scheme.
Miller said he now will obtain an order forcing release of Dorminey's assets, which are in the temporary custody of the Superior Court clerk.