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Spending on classic cars adds to scrutiny of child porn trader

Raleigh Carpenter holds a copy of a $3,000 check he says Michael D. Meister paid him from the Ione M. Cade Trust to finance the refurbishment of a Chevy Corvette at RC Customz body shop.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Raleigh Carpenter holds a copy of a $3,000 check he says Michael D. Meister paid him from the Ione M. Cade Trust to finance the refurbishment of a Chevy Corvette at RC Customz body shop.

TAMPA — In October, a 90-year-old widow's trust fund paid a Pinellas Park body shop $3,000 to paint a 1971 Corvette. In January, her name got caught up in the brokerage of an Italian sports car, a 1974 De Tomaso Pantera.

The widow, Ione M. Cade, isn't allowed to drive. Now 91, she lives north of Orlando in a home for people with dementia.

The body shop says the $3,000 check was handed over by convicted child pornography trader Michael D. Meister, 58, who would have been in jail last fall had blood cancer not won him the mercy of the federal courts.

He acknowledges in a letter obtained by the Tampa Bay Times lending himself $150,000 from Cade's trust to buy six cars and a boat, which he expected to sell at a profit. He wrote the letter to Cade's stepdaughter, Melissa Cade DuBose, who received it late Friday and shared it with a reporter. Meister also resigned as Cade's agent, a relationship based on a 2009 durable power of attorney agreement.

The FBI and the Times had separately been making inquiries in recent weeks about Meister's oversight of the woman's financial affairs, including the Nov. 27 sale of her house for $597,500.

No charges have been filed. The investigation is not over.

Meister paid $55,000 for the Pantera in December, the same month he told U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara that he was living on a disability check and was too broke to pay a porn victim's $25,000 restitution in full.

He didn't keep the car. He flipped it in a month at a loss of $13,500, counting fees, commissions and uncollected debt, according to records attached to a recent small-claims action filed by Meister in Pinellas County, where he lives.

After Meister sold the car at auction, a middleman wrote a check to "Michael Meister or Ione M. Cade Trust," records show.

Cade's stepdaughter recalls that Cade used to complain that Meister was "using" her money.

"She would never have gone along with anything like that," DuBose said of the car deals.

An FBI agent and FBI financial analyst interviewed DuBose on April 16 at her home in Orlando.

DuBose, who is Cade's heir and next in line to take over the power of attorney agreement, said Meister has kept the widow's financial matters mostly to himself. An Auburn University-trained accountant, he once did tax work in Miami for the late Arthur Cade, DuBose's father. Mr. Cade, a World War II veteran from Chicago, made a good living selling insurance for Old Republic, she said. He died in 2006.

DuBose believes Meister had control of about $1 million in remaining assets when Cade entered the memory care program last spring but has not seen a full accounting of what is left.

"It is an honor to fulfill my promise to Art and Ione," Meister wrote to DuBose last year. "I am sure you will be very happy with how all is handled."

Meister declined a reporter's request for an interview. His attorney in the child porn case, Michael J. Rosen, did not respond to an email describing the nature of this report.

In the letter provided by DuBose, Meister wrote that he was embarrassed by his behavior. He assured her he intended to repay the money. "Loaning myself the funds from the trust, while not illegal, was extremely bad judgment on my behalf," he wrote.

Cade's 2009 power of attorney declaration permitted Meister "to lend money to any person or entity with or without security." When he signed those papers as a witness, he was already facing the prospect of federal child porn charges.

Nothing in the law prevents a felon from serving as an agent in a power of attorney agreement, said John Clardy of Crystal River, chair of the Florida Bar's Elder Law section. But whether serving as agent or trustee — Meister was both — one is obligated to act prudently in fiduciary responsibilities, Clardy said. Even investment in gold is questionable, he said.

Classic cars? Clardy laughed.

Power of attorney arrangements work best, he said, when the agent has more money than the person being represented.

Meister appeared to be heavily in debt in a February financial statement that is part of his divorce file. He listed assets of $81,570 (six cars, a $6,000 boat and $2,070 in cash) but $817,896 in liabilities, including $320,000 owed to friends and family and $185,000 owed to his attorney.

The list does not mention a $150,000 loan from Cade's trust.

DuBose said she became concerned about the security of family assets after reading Times accounts of Meister's lengthy legal battle, which began in 2007 with a child porn discovery by a computer shop technician.

He was convicted in September and sentenced in December to seven years in prison for child porn possession and distribution. The law requires immediate detention upon conviction except in special circumstances. Judge Lazzara allowed Meister to remain on supervised release while appealing so he could be treated at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Meister has multiple myeloma, an oncologist has testified.

His freedom came to an end April 11, after he was found with more porn that appeared to depict teen boys. He could face additional charges for that.

At a bail revocation hearing April 18, the defense attorney asked the judge to grant Meister six weeks of freedom to get his financial affairs in order.

Lazzara declined.

In Meister's seven months of post-conviction release, he was a regular at RC Customz on 66th Street, where Raleigh Carpenter Jr. and his son refurbished three of Meister's Corvettes and were about to tackle a fourth.

Carpenter kept a copy of an Oct. 31 check for $3,000 from the Ione M. Cade Trust. The squiggly signature at the bottom appears to match the signature Meister provided during his trial.

Through winter, Meister returned with checks, including personal checks of his own and two more drawn on Cade's trust fund, Carpenter recalled. The three Cade checks totaled $9,000 to $10,000, he estimated.

A television show had piqued Meister's interest in restoring old cars for profit, Carpenter said.

"He had like $200,000," Carpenter said. "He was going to purchase cars and fix them up and resell them and make a lot of money."

When Carpenter accepted the trust fund checks, he said he assumed Cade was an investor. Meister had told him he had investors.

He struck Carpenter as cordial, likable, a dreamer. He just didn't know enough about cars. He didn't research book values and he paid too much.

When Meister started eyeing the Pantera, Carpenter saw trouble coming.

"I said, 'Michael do not buy that car,' " Carpenter said. "You're not going to make any money off it. But he did not listen."

Meister thought he was going to make $20,000 to $30,000, Carpenter said. When it didn't happen, Meister seemed "very stressed out."

"He mentioned that he had to get the money back in the account," Carpenter said. "He had to get the money back to the investor."

Patty Ryan can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or pryan@tampabay.com.

Spending on classic cars adds to scrutiny of child porn trader 05/03/14 [Last modified: Sunday, May 4, 2014 7:56am]

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