An appellate court judge has thrown out a Florida mogul’s adult adoption of his 42-year-old girlfriend, saying that his failure to notify his ex-wife about the scheme was a ‘fraud.’
Third District Court of Appeal Senior Judge Alan R. Schwartz wrote that the adoption of a ‘paramour’ or lover has no purpose and cannot be confirmed by a court.
Forty-nine-year-old John Goodman, the founder of the International Polo Club in Palm Beach, was sentenced last year to 16 years in prison for a fatal drunken-driving crash.
A lawyer for the crash victim’s family says Goodman’s 2011 adoption of 42-year-old Heather Laruso Hutchins would shield his fortune.
Goodman’s attorneys said he wouldn’t benefit from the adoption of his girlfriend of four years.
‘Everything that has been done by Mr. Goodman was done with the intention to preserve and grow the assets of the Trust for his two minor children, even should he personally be unable to continue his historical role in achieving these goals,’ said his attorney at the time of the adoption.
The appellate court also ruled Goodman committed fraud by not giving enough notice of the adoption to the mother of his children, Carroll Goodman.
Judge Schwartz ruled that Goodman’s ex-wife should have had a say in the matter of the adoption because she was involved in a civil lawsuit with the multimillionaire in a Delaware court over their children’s $300million trust fund.
Under the conditions of the adoption, Hutchins had been given a share of the trust fund fortune, leaving Goodman’s two children entitled to only a third of the sum rather than half.
‘Goodman’s concealment of the adoption proceeding deprived the children of an opportunity to address the trial court and present their objections,’ the decision stated.
The ruling comes more than a year after the outraged kids of the International Polo Club Palm Beach tycoon demanded that a judge throw out their dad’s move to adopt his lover, accusing him of intentionally duping the court.Goodman was sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of drunk driving and vehicular manslaughter in the death of 23-year-old Scott Wilson in February 2010.The embattled magnate has been on house arrest at his Wellington mansion on a $7million appellate bond since his March 2012 conviction, the Sun-Sentinel reported.In a stunning move in fall of 2011, Goodman adopted his girlfriend Heather Laruso Hutchins, 42, entitling her to up to a third of his biological children’s trust fund, worth $300million.
Harriet and John Jr – who are in their teens – charged their father with intentionally committing fraud and making a mockery of the adoption process.
The Palm Beach Post reported that a motion was filed in Miami-Dade court on behalf of the children’s guardian, Jeffrey Goddess, arguing that they and their mother had no idea the adoption had taken place until two months after it was finalized.
The motion reads: ‘If Mr. Goodman would like to protect her and take care of her financially, the obvious solution would be to marry her – not to make her his child.’
Their attorney, Joseph Rebak told the paper: ‘I have never seen anything like this in my 31, 32 years practicing law. Obviously we think it’s wrong and we are hoping to have it set aside.’
Goodman’s attorney Daniel Bachi issued a statement at the time saying that the adoption of his girlfriend was intended to help the trust for his biological children.
He wrote: ‘The adoption of Ms Hutchins should have no effect on the civil proceedings as none of the assets belong to Mr Goodman.’
‘The legal adoption of Ms Hutchins does not change that in any way. Ms Hutchins has no obligation whatsoever to give John B. Goodman a dime.’
Another contract between the two states that at least 95 per cent of the trust will ‘ultimately’ go to Harriet and John Jr.
He stressed that there is nothing illegal about the adoption.
The Wilsons’ lawyer Christian Searcy claims that Goodman still has a high degree of control over his children’s trust, court papers show.
Goodman is being sued by Wilson’s parents for wrongful death.
According to police reports, Goodman ran a stop sign on February 10, 2010, in Wellington, Florida and smashed into Wilson, sending his car into a canal.Circuit Judge Glenn Kelly had previously ruled that the trust funds set up for his two biological children were off-limits in the lawsuit, according to the Palm Beach Post.
Court papers show that Goodman adopted Ms Hutchins in October of last year, CBS12.com reported.
The adoption papers state that Ms Hutchins, now a legal child of Goodman, is immediately entitled to at least a third of his trust.
Goodman and Ms Hutchins have been dating in 2009, according to her testimony.
The Wilsons’ attorney, Scott Smith, told the Palm Beach Post that Goodman is attempting to use the adoption to shield his assets.
‘It cannot go unrecognized that [Goodman] chose to adopt his 42-year-old adult girlfriend as opposed to a needy child,’ he told the paper.
Judge Kelley wrote that the events are taking the court ‘into a legal twilight zone.’
Scott Wilson was a University of Central Florida graduate and was working as a civil engineer.
He had been driving his Hyundai home to Wellington to visit his family, according to the Palm Beach New Times when he was struck by Goodman’s Bentley convertible after he ran a stop sign.
Wilson’s car was knocked into a nearby canal, where he drowned.
Goodman was found to have a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit after the fatal 2010 crash, police reports show.
He will be criminally tried March 6, facing charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of a crash.
He could spend up to 30 years in prison if found guilty, the Palm Beach Post reports.
The civil trial will be some weeks later on March 27.
Goodman’s civil attorney Dan Bachi told myfoxorlando.com that the adoption was meant to secure the assets of his children and family investments, nothing more.
‘It has nothing to do with the lawsuit currently pending against him,’ Mr Bachi said.
Goodman’s father was the late Harold Goodman, who built a fortune from a heating and air conditioning manufacturing business. His family sold the business in 2004 for a reported $1.4billion.
He converted his father’s horse farm into a polo ranch and later began building his empire.His club became a magnate for the rich and famous, entertaining the likes of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sylvester Stallone, and Charlton Heston.
Even Madonna was spotted at the club, attending an International Polo Club match in 2009.
Goodman’s wealth is a point of a heated dispute. The Palm Beach New Times questioned the heir’s true assets, quoting Mr Wilson’s lawyer.Attorney Chris Searcy said Goodman is much richer than his financial documents show. He is seeking punitive damages that will ‘sting [Goodman] badly without bankrupting him,’ Mr Searcy told the New Times.According to the website, Mr Searcy thinks Goodman’s wealth is buried in numerous trusts and companies, and is as ‘sophisticated’ a method as he’s ever seen. The financial battle has been closely tied to the wrongful death suit.In 2002, the mogul sold his Wellington estate to his children’s trust fund for $3.8million, according to the New Times. But he only rents it for $2,000 per month.
According to an August 2011 report by the Palm Beach Post, his two children have more than $200 million in their trust funds. Mr Searcy suspects he has full control over those trusts.
Mr Searcy also said in court that Goodman has an airplane, yacht, polo ponies, and an unspecified amount of his father’s $1.4billion fortune from Goodman Manufacturing.
In a 2006 document, Goodman claimed one of his trusts was worth more than $100 million.
Mr Searcy pointed out that Goodman claimed in 2011 that trust was only worth $6.9 million.
The Wilsons have already settled privately with the Player’s Club, a bar in Wellington where Goodman had been drinking in February 2010.
They claimed that the club was partially responsible for the crash because they served Goodman even though he was intoxicated.
The bartenders argued that Goodman wasn’t noticeably drunk.
Goodman divorced his first wife Isla Carroll in 2008 after 22 years of marriage.
In the April 2009 divorce filing, Ms Carroll said she was fearful for the safety of herself as well as her children.
Judge STRIKES DOWN disgraced polo millionaire’s adoption of his 42-year-old girlfriend so she could share his children’s $300m trust fund
John Goodman, 49, adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend Heather Hutchins last October; couple has been dating since 2009
Goodman sentenced to 16 years for vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident in 2010 death of Scott Wilson, 23
Judge ruled that Goodman’s failure to notify his ex-wife about adoption constituted ‘fraud’
Beth Stebner/Thomas Durante/Snejana Farberov
March 28, 2013