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U.S. marshals capture fugitive businessman John Stanton in Orlando

Those who know John D. Stanton III say he is a creature of habit.

He loves high-end steak restaurants. He tends to stay at the same hotels. Even as a fugitive, he returns to the same cities and connections forged through a life as one of Tampa Bay's most prominent businessmen.

Stanton, 63, a man who once claimed a net worth of $269 million before his rarefied world disintegrated, was captured by U.S. marshals Friday just after 4 p.m. at a Fairfield Inn in Orlando, one of several of his favored hotels in the area, said his ex-wife, Susan Stanton.

Facing jail for failing to pay his ex-wife millions in support, Stanton has a girlfriend who lives in the Orlando area, his ex-wife said.

Marshals spotted Stanton, who is from Belleair, talking on his cellphone — a cheap phone he replaced every 24 hours — as he was walking, apparently unaware his 10 months as a fugitive were at an end.

"I had just about given up hope that he would ever be captured," said Susan Stanton, who said she was thankful for the dogged work of marshals and her own private investigator in tracking her ex-husband.

Stanton, former president of the Seffner building supplies company Cast Crete Inc., was being held without bail Friday at the Orange County jail. He is expected to be transported by Monday to Hillsborough, where a judge sentenced him to six months in jail in absentia for failing to pay his wife $6 million in support.

Though Cast Crete once earned $1 million a week, Stanton claimed he was broke during an acrimonious divorce that was finalized in July 2011. His ex-wife said Stanton had hidden his wealth in a complex web of companies with the help of friends and business associates.

Earlier this year, a Hillsborough judge found Stanton guilty of five criminal contempt charges, leading to the six-month sentence.

Stanton filed for bankruptcy, but then he failed to appear at creditor meetings. So a federal judge issued an arrest warrant.

The IRS had opened a criminal investigation of Stanton over Cast Crete's failure to file returns from 2003 to 2007, a period when the company earned $127 million in profit. The IRS said Stanton siphoned off millions for himself.

Philip Klein, a private investigator Susan Stanton hired to find her ex-husband, has said he and law enforcement had tracked Stanton through four states — Florida, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina. It was a cat-and-mouse game that produced numerous near misses, when investigators found themselves just minutes behind the fugitive.

Klein said Stanton was almost captured in West Palm Beach earlier this week. "We were just 35 minutes behind him," Klein said.

"This brings a closing chapter to a man who thought he was above the law," Klein said. "Everyone needs to know that no one is above the law."

Susan Stanton, a former Pinellas County resident who now lives in California, is owed more than $10 million that her former husband agreed to pay in the divorce settlement. She had even offered a $1,000 bounty for his capture.

Stanton said her ex-husband was willing to destroy his own life to ruin hers.

She said he had cut off the health insurance he had formerly provided to her and their 13-year-old son, who is a diabetic.

"We've been living in limbo," she said. "Maybe now we can get some closure."

Stanton is a former U.S. Army sergeant with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for rescuing a downed helicopter pilot in Vietnam. With a master's degree in business from the University of South Florida, he earned one of the highest scores in the nation among those taking the certified public accountant exam.

Stanton delved into philanthropy, including a $1.5 million contribution to his son's Independent Day School.

In a telephone interview with the Tampa Bay Times in January while he was still on the run, Stanton said his ex-wife, the courts and the media had unfairly tarnished his reputation.

"I certainly don't feel like I can be a fugitive from justice when no justice took place," he said, denying any wrongdoing. "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."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

U.S. marshals capture fugitive businessman John Stanton in Orlando 09/07/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 7, 2012 11:28pm]
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