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Financial woes haunt candidate for commission

During the 10 years he has lived in the Brandon area, Terry D. Morehouse has made a name for himself as a civic volunteer, family man and School Board candidate.

This year Morehouse, a financial planner and insurance agent, is getting attention as the leading Republican fund-raiser among the candidates for a countywide Hillsborough County Commission seat.

But Morehouse has had his share of difficulties, too, as files at the County Courthouse attest: financial problems including house foreclosure, federal tax liens and the threat of jail time for unpaid debt, as well as a 1989 arrest over child support from a broken marriage in Pennsylvania.

But, Morehouse said Tuesday, no one should think less of his ability to serve as a county commissioner because of his money problems, many of which he traces to a bitter divorce in Florida. On the contrary, he thinks he did well to make himself whole again.

"I was almost put in financial ruin," Morehouse said. "If I wasn't such a good businessman, I would have been there."

"I have to accept responsibility for what I do, fully," Morehouse said. ". . . It's got to come out, so let's get it out."

County court and sheriff's office records provide the following official chronology:

In 1989, Morehouse was arrested and briefly jailed on a contempt charge stemming from a 1988 child support case filed on behalf of an ex-wife in Pennsylvania. Morehouse said the amount in question was only $300, which he paid within minutes to obtain his release from jail.

Morehouse said the sum had built up without his knowledge, and he blamed faulty bureaucracy in Pennsylvania. Getting arrested "was the most humiliating day of life _ it will probably destroy my whole political career."

Morehouse said his subsequent marriage began to break up in Florida in 1990, prompting his wife to file for a temporary injunction seeking protection from domestic violence. Morehouse denied he abused his then-wife in any way, and notes that a judge soon modified the injunction permitting Morehouse to return to the house the couple shared.

In 1991, Glendale Federal Bank foreclosed on the $132,000 note it held on the couple's house on St. Cloud Oaks Drive in Valrico. Morehouse said the divorce had made it impossible to meet the steep payments on the mortgage.

In 1992, Morehouse's ex-wife in Pennsylvania obtained a ruling of contempt, on pain of jail time, against Morehouse after sums of back child support rose to $1,239. The judge ordered that regular payments be deducted from Morehouse's salary, which he reported as $2,100 a month. Morehouse said that debt was paid off in full last year.

In 1993, Morehouse's ex-wife in Florida obtained a judgment against him for $5,276 in legal fees. Morehouse said he pays $150 a month on that debt, and that he has paid it down to less than $2,000.

Morehouse failed to report the debt on the financial disclosure that state law requires all candidates to file. Candidates are supposed to disclose judgments in excess of $1,000. On that report, Morehouse listed his monthly income as $5,400.

In 1995, the Internal Revenue Service filed liens totaling $12,600 against Morehouse. The liens stemmed from the 1990 and 1991 tax years, and he said they too resulted from the divorce.

"The IRS debt is down to a couple grand," Morehouse said. "It's going to be paid off in the next 30 days."

Also, Morehouse's securities registration file in Texas, where he worked as an agent, shows that in 1980 in Pennsylvania Morehouse had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, along with his remodeling business Kustom Kraft Kitchens, and that the case was dismissed in 1986. Morehouse said he withdrew the case after repaying the debt.

Morehouse, who is seeking the District 6 at-large commission seat among a large field of candidates, made a point of mentioning his volunteer work in Brandon and throughout the county: in local chambers of commerce, as founding president of an American Heart Association chapter, as chairman of a county board with the agricultural extension service that he said advises dysfunctional families on how to manage their budgets, and as a worker building fields for the Bloomingdale Little League. His company, Morehouse Financial Services, has several times been nominated for small business of the year, he said.

Morehouse has twice run for School Board. In 1994, he got 13,000 votes and barely missed making the runoff, although he spent only $5,000. So far in his commission race, Morehouse has raised $18,310, the most of any Republican in the race.

"I think I've proven myself on a community-wide basis," Morehouse said. "What happened in my personal life happened in my personal life."