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Once in Tampa Bay business elite, 'poster child' deadbeat dad John Stanton at large

TAMPA — As a politically influential Tampa Bay area businessman, John Dargan Stanton III headed a Seffner building materials company that, at one point, earned profits of $1 million a week.

Stanton, former president of Cast-Crete, was a wealthy philanthropist who lived in an Avila mansion and once parked a Lamborghini and a DeLorean in his garage.

But a Hillsborough County circuit judge ordered Stanton's arrest Thursday after she found him guilty of five counts of criminal contempt for his repeated failure to pay his former wife child support and alimony of more than $6 million.

Circuit Judge Caroline Tesche sentenced Stanton to nearly six months in jail after a contempt hearing that Stanton, 63, failed to attend despite a court requirement to do so.

By late Thursday, Stanton, now of Belleair, was still at large. His attorney said he doesn't know his whereabouts.

Tesche said Stanton had the ability to pay his wife, Susan Stanton, despite his insistence that he is broke and living on borrowed money. Mrs. Stanton filed for divorce in 2009 and a settlement was finalized in July.

Including money that was not part of the contempt proceedings, Stanton now owes his ex-wife a total of $10 million, her attorneys say. The couple have a 12-year-old son.

"He hasn't supported us in years," Mrs. Stanton, a California resident who wasn't required to attend the hearing, said in a telephone interview. "He thinks he is above the law. I just want him to do what is right by me and my son."

Lawyer Louis Hornstine, a former New Jersey judge who represents Stanton's ex-wife, told Tesche that Stanton was "the national poster child for deadbeat dads."

Hornstine repeatedly called Stanton "John the con" during the hearing, saying Stanton had ample assets, including stock in several companies.

"Clearly, he was thumbing his nose at the court," Hornstine said.

Stanton's attorney, Ron Russo, said the settlement in the divorce didn't allow his client to sell stock in several companies to generate cash to pay his ex-wife.

"They have not identified one dime of assets he is able to sell," Russo said.

Earlier this year, Stanton claimed his only income was a $541-a-month Department of Veterans Affairs disability check. But his ex-wife accuses him of hiding millions in assets.

Stanton filed a bankruptcy petition Tuesday, but the filing provides little clarity about his finances.

In the petition, Stanton checked a box saying his estimated assets were between $100 million and $500 million. He estimated liabilities of no more than $50 million.

Hornstine said the bankruptcy filing just three days before the contempt hearing was a transparent effort to stop contempt proceedings. But the judge refused to stay the hearing.

It's been a remarkable fall for Stanton, a decorated veteran of Vietnam who once moved among Tampa Bay's business elite.

Under the tutelage of the late Ralph Hughes, Cast-Crete's former chairman, Stanton rose from company accountant to become president and a major stockholder of the firm. Cast-Crete became one the nation's leading suppliers of concrete products.

In 2006, Hughes paid $500,000 to the wife of former Hillsborough County Commission Jim Norman so she could buy an Arkansas vacation home. Federal prosecutors closed an investigation of Norman, now a state senator, without charges.

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.

In November 2010, Stanton spent 15 days in jail for failing to turn over documents to his ex-wife during divorce proceedings.

"The money is there," Susan Stanton said. "He just doesn't feel the need to take care of his family."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

Once in Tampa Bay business elite, 'poster child' deadbeat dad John Stanton at large 12/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2011 7:39am]
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