A party who benefits from a fraudulent transaction may be a principal in the fraud and may be held liable as such. In re Arthur Andersen L.L.P., 121 S.W.3d 471, 481 (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2003, no pet.). A party can be liable for the fraudulent misrepresentations of a third party by mere silent acquiescence when he benefitted from the fraud. (citing Bransom v. Standard Hardware, Inc., 874 S.W.2d 919, 924 (Tex.App.-Fort Worth 1994, writ denied); Corpus Christi Teachers Credit Union v. Hernandez, 814 S.W.2d 195, 202 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 1991, no writ)).
There is evidence that supports the court’s findings that Johnny Compton was aware of the fraud and knowingly benefitted from it. The connection between the cash removed from the box and the purchase of the Suburban is undisputed. Although flatly denied, Lynn Compton’s testimony that Johnny Compton said he was making payments on the Suburban is inconsistent with the idea that it was a fully-paid gift. Even if Johnny Compton was initially unaware that the purchase money for the Suburban was not a gift, he became aware on , that others did not believe it was a gift. Factually sufficient evidence supports the trial court’s findings that Johnny Compton accepted the benefits of Toni Compton’s fraud despite his awareness of the fraud.
Nevertheless, the evidence also supports the court’s judgment limiting Johnny Compton’s liability to the purchase price of the Suburban. Unlike the clear evidence connecting the $30,000 taken by Toni Compton with Johnny Compton’s beneficial use of the Suburban, there is not sufficient evidence to establish a clear connection between the remainder of the cash taken by Toni Compton (approximately $40,000) and a particular benefit received by Johnny Compton. There was testimony that the Comptons purchased several assets and improvements while Toni Compton had access to the box, but there was competing evidence that the purchases were made at other times or with other funds. Further, there is no direct evidence that Johnny Compton participated in his wife’s deceptive actions. The only evidence is of peripheral involvement in events surrounding the cash, such as his presence at the meeting when the funds were discussed and his awareness of the deposits made by Toni Compton between , at times when she had access to the box and was not otherwise earning an income. Yet, it is undisputed that Johnny Compton did not rent the safe deposit box, was not an authorized user, and did not open it. Accordingly, the record supports the court’s refusal to hold Johnny Compton jointly and severally liable for anything more than the value of the Suburban.
Thus, factually sufficient evidence supports the court’s refusal to find that Johnny Compton benefitted from the remainder of the removed cash and that he knew of or acquiesced in that benefit
Mary Sesso testified that she did not attempt to open the box until she needed funds to pay for her husband’s funeral in . At that time, she looked for the keys to the box but found only the empty envelopes in her jewelry box. Toni Compton claimed ignorance when asked where the keys were. Mary Sesso testified that, after she explained that she needed to go to the bank in the morning to get the money, Toni Compton told her “you better be early.”
Toni Compton explained that, in accord with her father’s wish, she took $30,000 in cash from the box on , to purchase the Suburban. She said that she discussed the purchase with her father in front of her son, but not her mother. Toni Compton testified that her father said he wanted to make sure that she got something from him in case Mary Sesso changed their will again. Toni Compton testified that her father knew the price range of the vehicle and knew she took the cash. While taking the $30,000 from the box, she also removed her pearls. Evidence showed that, in mid-, Toni Compton deposited $26,000 into her and Johnny Compton’s checking account and wrote a $26, check for the Suburban.
Specifically, the Comptons challenge the trial court’s findings and conclusions that (1) they used $28, from the safe deposit box to purchase a Suburban, which was placed in Toni Compton’s name and used by both Comptons as a family vehicle, (2) Johnny Compton benefitted from the purchase and use of the Suburban, (3) Johnny Compton knew or should have known that Toni Compton stole funds from Mary Sesso, (4) Toni Compton committed fraud and constructive fraud against Mary Sesso, (5) by accepting the benefits of Toni Compton’s fraud, conversion, and theft, Johnny Compton participated in these acts, (6) the Comptons would be unjustly enriched if the Suburban remained in Toni Compton’s name, and (7) Johnny Compton is jointly and severally liable for $26, of the $72, principal judgment. Mary Sesso argues by cross-appeal that Johnny Compton should be jointly and severally liable for the entire amount of the judgment, rather than just a portion of it.
Both sides challenge the court’s conclusion that Johnny Compton is jointly and severally liable for the fraud to the extent that it involves the purchase of the Suburban. The court concluded that Johnny Compton knew or should have known that Toni Compton had taken money from the box without permission and that, because he benefitted from her wrongful taking of those funds, he equitably participated in that wrongdoing. The Comptons contend that Johnny Compton had almost no involvement in any of the relevant transactions and that he did not benefit from the purchase of the Suburban. Conversely, Mary Sesso contends that Johnny Compton should be held liable for all of the missing cash.