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Doug Butler, a CPA, had prepared his parents' tax returns since 1970. So he could hardly have imagined, when he sat down to prepare them again in 2010, that he was about to enter a maelstrom.
Butler lives in the small farming community of Ellensburg, Wash., with his wife and 16-year-old son. There is no way he could have known, on that day in April 2010, that what he was about to discover would turn his family upside-down and impel him to start carrying a gun — or that, a year later, it would lead him to a courtroom in Helena, Ark., to a Methodist church in Little Rock, and to the Pulaski County prosecutor's office.
Butler's father, Norman Butler, had worked as an optometrist. When he and his wife, Mary, retired in 2000, they'd built a house on property adjacent to Doug's. The couple had been married for 56 years when Mary died in 2004.
In 2005, Norman met a widow online whom he would occasionally visit. His children — Doug and his two sisters — were happy that, at 75, their dad had found some romance in his life. Doug even thought she resembled his mom.
Doug Butler also felt satisfied that his dad was in good shape financially. Norman owned his house and had about $2.5 million dollars set aside in two trust accounts. But, in April 2010, when he began work on the 2009 taxes, what he saw was shocking. A brokerage statement for one of the trusts, valued at more than $420,000 the year before, now showed just $14,000.
Over the years, Butler had not had to delve far into his father's finances to prepare his taxes — and he hadn't. His father, who'd grown up during the Depression, had been a careful money manager. Like other CPAs, Doug Butler used his father's end-of-the-year statements and worked from those numbers. But the depletion of the trust account sent him looking further.
It didn't take long for the accountant to figure out that his father had sent the money — more than $849,000 in 2009 alone — to his lady friend, whom the family knew as Shea Saenger. When Doug found a single check to Saenger for $97,000, he confronted his father. "I asked him, 'Why? Why'd you send it to Shea?' His answer was, 'I don't know.' "
Butler called Saenger. "I asked her, 'You know, there's a lot of money missing from Dad's accounts. Do you have any idea what happened to it?' She said no. She said she didn't get any money from Dad."
"Dad was always buying and selling stock," Butler says. "In all of the earlier years it just never occurred to me that instead of reinvesting the proceeds from a stock sale, he was sending it all to Shea Saenger."
Butler asked his dad to grant him his durable power of attorney and to resign as trustee on the accounts, which Norman Butler did. That allowed Doug to get control of his father's accounts, request copies of the checks that had been drawn on them, and search his father's computer. There he found a trail of e-mails from Saenger, most pleading for money.
Butler found that in 2009, his father had written two checks to Saenger for $164,000 each. E-mails revealed that Saenger had directed Norman Butler not to deposit checks he received but to endorse them and send them to her. She even provided him with pre-addressed envelopes.
It was a lot to absorb. "I had a hard time believing what Dad had done, even when I was seeing it," Doug Butler says. "It took me a long time to accept that, yeah, this is what happened."