TAMPA — It has been three weeks since a judge issued a warrant for the arrest of prominent Tampa Bay businessman John Stanton for a willful failure to pay millions in child support and alimony.
Stanton has so far failed to surrender. His former wife says he's hiding in the Orlando area with his girlfriend and has offered a $1,000 reward for his capture.
But in a telephone interview on Wednesday with the Tampa Bay Times, Stanton scoffed at the notion that he is a fugitive. He said his ex-wife, the courts and the media have unfairly tarnished his reputation and portrayed him as a villain.
"I certainly don't feel like I can be a fugitive from justice when no justice took place," Stanton said. "I think what has been done to me is totally inappropriate and unfair. … I've been portrayed as the bad boy of Tampa Bay business, which I think is kind of humorous."
After a court hearing that ended Dec. 15, Stanton was sentenced to about six months in jail by a Hillsborough County judge on criminal contempt charges for what the court said was a willful failure to pay $6 million in child support and alimony. Stanton, his ex-wife's attorneys say, now owes a total of $10 million.
Stanton said his sentence will be reversed on appeal. Asked if he would surrender if the appeal were lost, he said, "At the end of the day, if I have to deal with it, I will deal with it."
Stanton, 63, called the Times after a request for an interview was made through his bankruptcy attorney. Stanton refused to divulge his whereabouts during the interview, and the caller ID number display was blank.
He also indicated he was in negotiations that will make his legal difficulties "go away." He declined to provide details.
His ex-wife, Susan Stanton, who lives in California, could not be reached to comment.
One of her attorneys said there have been no negotiations with Stanton or his attorneys to resolve the battle over child support and alimony.
"Gee, that's news to me," attorney Michael Lundy said when told of Stanton's comments. "He's grasping at straws. I do not understand how a man could choose to go down that road."
Stanton was a politically influential philanthropist who moved among Tampa Bay's business elite. He served as president and a major stockholder in the Cast-Crete Corp., Florida's largest maker of precast concrete products used in construction. His net worth was once pegged at $269 million.
The company rode a Florida building boom that at one time generated $1 million a week in profits.
But the IRS has opened a criminal investigation of Stanton over Cast-Crete's failure to file tax returns from 2003 to 2007, a period in which the company recorded profits of $127 million. Stanton "siphoned" millions to himself while stonewalling tax agents, the IRS said.
But in divorce proceedings, Stanton said he has been a victim of the housing downturn who has no income outside a Department of Veterans Affairs pension of less than $600 a month.
Bankruptcy filings by Stanton say he has at least $100 million in assets, but his attorneys say those assets are not liquid and cannot be quickly turned into cash.
In the interview, Stanton said he wants to repay all his creditors and insisted he isn't hiding assets. His wife's attorneys, he said, cannot prove otherwise.
"But how do you disprove a negative?" Stanton said.
Stanton said his ex-wife is living better than he is, a claim Susan Stanton has emphatically denied. "I live kind of a meager existence compared to what people think," he said.
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3432.