TAMPA — Susan Stanton, who once called her tax-evading husband, John Stanton, a deadbeat dad, is trying to win a claim of $13 million in Stanton’s bankruptcy case.
But she has a hurdle to overcome: Susan Stanton was never legally married to John Stanton, the former millionaire president of the Cast-Crete Corp. It turns out he never divorced his first wife.
A document popped up in bankruptcy filings recently that appears to be a copy of an order granting the dissolution of John Stanton’s marriage to his first wife, Susanne.
But two clerks at the Pinellas County Clerk of Court’s office told the Tribune they could find no original in their system. One clerk said the “numbers are funny” at the top of the document, failing to include abbreviations that would normally be printed on a divorce order. Another clerk said the numbers appear tied to an unrelated case.
“Oh yeah, there’s no doubt in my mind it’s not a legitimate document,” said Herbert Donica, attorney for the trustee in John Stanton’s bankruptcy case.
What’s not clear is who created the court order. It is part of a batch of documents Susan Stanton submitted to the bankruptcy trustee to substantiate her case as a creditor with a claim of $13 million for child support and alimony.
Susan Stanton said in an interview Friday that John showed her the document to persuade her he had divorced Susanne.
“He gave me that document and then I found out it was fake,” Susan Stanton said, “but he swore up and down he was divorced.”
Stanton co-owned Cast-Crete with the late conservative political power broker Ralph Hughes, who bankrolled candidates for county commission and other political offices. Prior to 2008, Stanton owned 2.6 million shares of Cast-Crete stock, which comprised 39.1 percent of the company.
Sometime in 2006, the Internal Revenue Service started investigating Stanton for failing to file corporate and individual tax returns. He filed for bankruptcy Dec. 13, 2011.
A year later, a jury convicted him of eight counts of interference with Internal Revenue Service laws and failure to file tax returns. He was sentenced this past August to 10 years in prison.
After his conviction, John Stanton recanted his previous statements about having divorced Susanne Stanton. No records of a divorce between John and Susanne Stanton are filed in Pinellas County or Hernando County, where Susanne now lives.
The implications of this bigamy admission could be major for Susan Stanton and other creditors, including the U.S. government, which has a $37.8 million restitution order against John Stanton for unpaid taxes.
Bankruptcy trustee Larry Hyman, who is responsible for finding as much money as possible to pay creditors, has filed a lawsuit against Susan Stanton claiming John fraudulently conveyed to her more than $5 million and 1.1 million shares of Cast-Crete stocks.
In a document recently filed by Susan Stanton, she claims the stocks are worth $3.4 million.
“She received a lot of assets from John Stanton and the trustee is entitled to unwind those actions,” said Donica, the attorney for the trustee.
Paul DeCailly, John Stanton’s lawyer, said the money transferred by his client to Susan Stanton was more like $12 million.
“The $12 million total goes back to 2006,” DeCailly said. “I don’t know what kind of burn rate you have to be going through to go through $12 million in six years.”
DeCailly said the fake court order is part of Susan Stanton’s efforts to maintain she didn’t know her husband had never divorced his first wife. If it can be proven she did know, the money she received from John over six years could be subject to a gift tax, he said.
“That document is so fraudulent on its face,” DeCailly said. “The real question is will Susan Stanton ever pay any taxes — gift taxes.”
The basis for Susan Stanton’s $13 million claim in bankruptcy court is a marriage settlement agreement she and John signed in July 2011. John agreed to pay Susan $28,000 a month for support of their child, Wade, plus a cost-of-living adjustment and $10,000 a month in alimony.
He also agreed to pay Susan $9.75 million in lump sum alimony payments by Sept. 30, 2011. And Susan was to keep any remaining proceeds from homes the couple sold, one in the exclusive Avila community north of Tampa and the other at Indian Shores in Pinellas County.
In a financial affidavit Susan signed in August, she estimated her net worth at $15.3 million, which includes a $3 million house in Toluca Lake, Calif.
In the affidavit, Susan Stanton listed her monthly expenses, which include Wade’s ninth-grade tuition, of $25,336.
“I can’t afford to buy clothes or dry cleaning now,” she wrote in the margin at the bottom of the document. “I fired my maid but would like it once a month at $225.”
As for the money the trustee claims was transferred fraudulently, Susan said most of it was used to pay household bills and attorneys fighting her former husband. She estimates that at most, she got $6 million from Stanton, and that included the California house.
“I’m not greedy,” she said. “Most of the money I had in my homes went to my attorneys. I’m just trying to keep what I have.”
The source of the fake marriage dissolution order may never be known.
“I’m not going to spend any time trying to go find out who did it; it’s bogus on its face,” Donica, the attorney for the bankruptcy trustee, said. “Maybe Susan said she relied on it. In terms of whether they were ever legally married, it’s irrelevant.”