Sunday, March 2
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A divorced couple's bitter rift took a twisted turn when a Connecticut woman allegedly tried to hire a hit man to kill her ex-husband — and only turned more bizarre when she retained custody of their daughter.
For more than a year they had battled over the rights to the 8-year-old girl — with the winning parent also getting control of what police called a $50 million fund linked to the girl's custody — before Tiffany Stevens was arrested in July 2012, allegedly for offering a maintenance man $5,000 to kill her ex-husband, Eric.
Now, almost two years later, Eric Stevens says he doesn't know exactly where his daughter is, just that the woman who tried to have him killed still officially has custody.
"I think it's unconscionable," he said.
On Thursday, Eric Stevens filed a complaint with the Statewide Grievance Committee, which handles lawyer discipline cases, against the court-appointed guardian ad litem — or advocate — for his daughter in the custody case, alleging corruption and perjury.
It was just the latest legal maneuver in divorce and custody cases have produced nearly 180 motions and rulings — and extraordinary allegations by both sides — since Eric Stevens filed for divorce in 2009 after less than six years of marriage.
Three years later, police say Tiffany Stevens tried to have her former husband killed. The custody fight grew even more complicated a week after her arrest when her parents — with her support — filed a motion for custody of their only grandchild.
Eric Stevens filed a motion for immediate custody of his daughter in September 2012, citing his ex-wife's arrest, and Hartford Family Court Judge Leslie Olear rejected it without explanation, court records show. His ex-wife's parents claim in court papers that he's unfit to be a parent, but Olear hasn't ruled on their 1½-year-old custody request, either.
A secretary for Olear said the judge would not comment on the case. A state Judicial Branch spokeswoman says the branch doesn't comment on pending legal cases.
Tiffany Stevens, 38, of Bloomfield, couldn't be reached for comment. She has pleaded not guilty and posted $1 million bail in the still-pending case. The lawyers in her criminal and Family Court cases didn't return messages seeking comment.
The guardian ad litem, Mary Bergamini, also did not return messages seeking comment.
Eric Stevens believes his daughter, who turns 9 in about two weeks, is living with his ex-wife, but says he can't be sure. He says the girl also could be with either of Tiffany Stevens' parents, Edward Khalily and Diana Rabbani, who live in different towns in Long Island, N.Y. Khalily is a principal of WEGO Chemical & Mineral Co., a large chemical distributor based in Great Neck, N.Y.
Rabbani declined to comment. Khalily called Eric Stevens a liar before refusing further comment in a brief phone interview.
Eric Stevens said he hasn't seen his daughter since October 2011 because of Family Court orders. Tiffany Stevens was granted sole custody of their daughter as part of their 2011 divorce agreement, which provided Eric Stevens with supervised visits. Now, he said there is only an order requiring that his daughter call him on weeknights.
Eric Stevens says when his daughter calls, the number shows up as blocked on his caller ID. So he's not sure where she is calling from.
The case is rife with bitter allegations on both sides.
Documents filed by Tiffany Stevens' lawyers include a psychological examination of her ex-husband saying he has depression with "psychotic features" and an apparent personality disorder. She also obtained a restraining order against him and accused him of threatening and harassing her and their daughter. Eric Stevens denies the claims in the psychological exam and his ex-wife's allegations.
In August 2009, Eric Stevens was arrested for violating the restraining order by going to his daughter's school and unsuccessfully trying to buy a gun for $10,000 at a pawn shop, court records show. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless endangerment and was sentenced to probation.
Eric Stevens accuses his ex-wife of being a long-time drug addict. Court records show Tiffany Stevens had to undergo random drug testing as part of the child custody case.
The case file in Family Court also includes a letter by the state Department of Children and Families saying officials had substantiated claims of physical and emotional neglect by Tiffany Stevens against her daughter.
Hartford Democratic state Reps. Minnie Gonzalez and Angel Arce accompanied Eric Stevens as he filed the complaint Thursday, saying they're trying to reform the Family Court system.
Meanwhile, Olear on Wednesday survived a close vote on her reconfirmation as a judge in the state House of Representatives, after parents frustrated with the Family Court system urged lawmakers to vote against her. The House approved Olear on an unusually narrow vote for a judge reconfirmation, 78-67. Olear later cleared the Senate on a 28-4 vote.