TAMPA — Maria George told anyone who would listen that her ex-husband had threatened her life.
She told his partners in the investment banking community. She sent letters to David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and Conan O'Brien. She once told a lawyer that if she could find an address for Santa Claus, she would have sent him a letter, too.
But a federal judge ruled on Wednesday that George's testimony that her husband wanted to kill her was not credible. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Caryl Delano said the Clearwater woman cannot erase through bankruptcy a $9.7 million judgment her husband won against her in a 2006 defamation trial. Under bankruptcy law, a debt that is incurred because of someone's willful and malicious conduct cannot be discharged, the judge said.
George's ex-husband, Scott George, 57, declined to comment through his attorney, Mike Markham. Maria George, 56, could not be reached, and a call to her attorney was not returned.
The Georges, who married in 1980, were a power couple who seemingly had everything.
Scott George worked in investment banking, first at Salomon Brothers and then with other firms. By the 1990s, the couple lived in a $3 million, 22-room home in the Chicago area, where they regularly entertained social and business luminaries. At one point, Scott George formed a company and sold it for $3 million.
An acrimonious divorce was finalized in 1999.
In 2002 and 2004, Maria George sent letters to thousands of people, including her ex-husband's business partners, alleging he had threatened her and accusing him of professional misconduct. The mailings, while untrue, ruined his high-flying career, Scott George testified.
George was the national director of mergers and acquisitions for Ernst & Young. The company was later bought out by another firm, and George was the only partner in his division not invited to stay, he testified.
George said negotiations with other companies dried up. He finally found a job at $160,000 per year, far below his previous earnings. He blamed his ex-wife's letters. So he filed a lawsuit accusing her of defamation and invasion of privacy. After an eight-day trial in October 2006, an Illinois jury awarded Scott George the $9.7 million verdict.
Maria George's initial bankruptcy filing said she had $27,000 in assets and $12.2 million in liabilities. At a bankruptcy trial last April in Tampa, Maria George insisted she thought her husband wanted her dead. She said the letters she sent were her way of preventing her ex-husband from "calling his Godfather" and arranging her death by poison, by bullet or by sabotaging the brakes on her car.
At times, Judge Delano appeared exasperated with some of the testimony about threats.
"I haven't heard about any killings," the judge told lawyers last year. "I haven't heard about any violence. All I've heard about is a very sad divorce case."
William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected]