By RYAN DUNN
A Hancock County judge ruled last year that Donald Miller Jr. was legally dead, even as Miller stood in front of the judge.
But the Social Security Administration believes Miller is alive, and is demanding his two daughters return more than $47,000 in death benefits they received as teenagers, his former wife said.
“If anybody has to pay this back, it should be him, because we didn’t do anything wrong,” said ex-wife Robin Miller.
The legal saga that drew international disbelief began in 1994. That’s when Hancock County Probate Judge Allan Davis declared Donald Miller legally dead, years after his disappearance from Arcadia.
Robin Miller sought the death ruling in hopes of collecting Social Security survivor’s compensation. The funds would offset Donald Miller’s outstanding child support bill of about $26,000, she said.
Donald Miller, 62, of Fostoria, resurfaced last August and asked Judge Davis to reverse the “legally dead” ruling.
Miller claimed he had resided in Florida and Georgia during his absence. Upon returning to Ohio around 2005, Miller learned of his “death” and Social Security cancellation, he said.
Judge Davis in October rejected Miller’s request. Ohio estate law only permits the undoing of a legal death “at any time within a three-year period.”
Donald Miller missed that deadline by 16 years. The case appeared closed when he did not pursue an appeal.
But the Social Security Administration contends that Miller is alive, and in April, the agency sent out letters seeking repayment of the death benefits paid to Miller’s children.
Robin Miller, 54, of Fostoria, shared the letters with The Courier.
To remedy “overpayment” of benefits, the agency billed $28,711 to one child and $18,545 to the other.
First payments on the total $47,256 debt were due within three weeks, according to the billing statements.
Robin Miller said the agency’s claim for restitution of all benefits, plus apparent fees and interest, was stunning.
This debt would “wipe everything out,” Robin Miller said.
The Millers’ two daughters each received about $100 per week from Social Security until their 18th birthdays, Robin Miller said.
Federal benefits were paid for a year and a half to the older daughter and three and a half years to the younger one, she said.
The payments totaled less than $30,000.
Robin Miller has not held regular employment since 2001 due to a disability, and her 67-year-old husband works in construction, she said. The man she married after Donald Miller, who also has the last name Miller, does not deserve this burden, she said.
When asked by The Courier why the Social Security Administration is seeking this money, a spokesman said the agency is reviewing Robin Miller’s application for a waiver.
“We are in the process of making a determination on her request,” said Doug Nguyen of the agency’s Chicago office.
Robin Miller said a Social Security Administration employee told her the agency will seek repayment from the daughters first, then from Robin Miller, then Donald Miller.
Officials are asking what the Millers purchased with the funds, she said.
“I mean, it was 20 years ago. I was raising kids. What did he (Donald Miller) do? He left them,” she said.
The two were married from 1977 to 1980.
“He doesn’t think he did anything wrong. That’s what he keeps telling the girls,” she said.
Donald Miller’s attorney, Francis Marley, has refused to return calls from The Courier. Neither he nor his client could be reached for comment.
The case has sparked global fascination as to how a living man could be ruled dead. Judge Davis called the legal time limit a “glaring defect” in Ohio law.
The New York Times, Fox News Channel, and British Broadcasting Corp. were among national and international outlets that followed the original story.
Before Miller was declared dead, Robin Miller said her family conducted an exhaustive search to find him. They did not defraud the government, she said.
She hired a private investigator, contacted the FBI, and even had relatives drive to Florida to search for Miller, she said.
“We honestly thought he was done, dead, gone and out of our lives,” said Robin Miller.
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