January 29, 2000
How a father lived in the shadows to avoid payments
The Star finds man who owes ex-wife more than $100,000 in child supportBy Patricia Orwen and Dale Brazao
Toronto Star Staff Reporters
Mark Suddick moved in 1995 to this home owned by his parents in a golfing community in Sarasota, where houses sell for up to $250,000 (U.S.).
The secret life of
a deadbeat dad
DALE BRAZAO/TORONTO STAR FOUND MAN:The government told Harriet Levesque it couldn't collect child support from her ex-husband Mark Suddick, above at parents' Markham home, and at right with Levesque and daughter.
Mark Suddick could be a poster boy for all that is wrong with Ontario's child-support system.
For eight years, he has ignored a court order and repeated reminders to pay support. He owes more than $100,000 to a Barrie woman working at a minimum-wage job to raise the couple's 12-year-old daughter.
Suddick had disappeared into seclusion and secrecy. For the past several years, he has divided his time between Ontario and Florida where his parents own houses, both in exclusive golfing communities.
Suddick is one of the province's 128,000 deadbeat parents. And like many in his situation, he has attempted to cover his trail. But an investigation by The Star shone a spotlight on his life in the shadows - something the province told Suddick's ex-wife it could not do.
In early December, Harriet Levesque received a letter from the province saying nothing more could be done to collect the $101,396.44 in child support owed by her ex-husband. It was now up to her to provide the government with more information about Suddick's whereabouts and finances.
The letter said the government agency charged with collecting the money on her behalf couldn't find an income source for Suddick. It appears they couldn't even find him. But The Star did - by simply parking at the end of his parents' driveway in Markham and following him to work.
`What would you have us do? Kick him out on the street?'
The province says it is fixing its support system, which has been much criticized by both the parents who are owed money - most of them women - and the opposition at Queen's Park.
Yesterday, five days after The Star told the ministry of the attorney general it had found Suddick, the ministry served Suddick with a subpoena ordering him to attend a support payment default hearing in March.
In late 1998, the government's Family Responsibility Office handed 23,000 of its most stubborn cases, including Suddick's, to three private collection agencies. The aim of those agencies was to recover about $400 million in child support outstanding for more than three years.
A provincial auditor's report last year said only $1 million was collected in the first six months of the pilot program. The government says $4.4 million was recovered by the time the one-year project ended last fall.
The government won't say which of three collection agencies - Allied International Credit Corp., with offices in Markham, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa, Toronto-based Collect Corp. Inc. or the Brantford office of Financial Collection Agencies - was assigned to Suddick's case, nor will it say what steps were taken to track him down. The collection agencies also refused comment, citing privacy laws.
It took The Star the equivalent of seven days to find Suddick.
He is a fugitive who lives in darkness, like a groundhog afraid of his own shadow.
Suddick emerged just after 8 a.m. last week from an unlit house in a new Markham subdivision and hurriedly drove to his job at an automotive parts warehouse.
The Star followed him and confronted him outside Satellite Automotive Supply Ltd. in Markham, where he has been working for about a year.
``I'm a subcontractor. . .'' a startled Suddick said when two reporters approached him and asked whether he was working. The lean, 38-year-old chain smoker, who formerly worked as a real estate agent in the Markham area, said he earns $12,000 a year.
His boss, Lorne Potter, said Suddick averages $400 a week gross if he works a full week, up to about $20,000 a year.
According to provincial records, Suddick has made only one child support payment since his divorce from Levesque in 1991: a 1994 cheque for $140.
A court ordered him in 1991 to pay $750 a month in support, retroactive to the couple's separation in 1989.
Asked about his failure to pay up, Suddick became irritated. He said his arrears had been reduced to $20,000 - though the province's automated information system, updated nightly, showed arrears of more than $102,000 this week - then refused to answer more questions. ``You don't work for the government. I don't have to talk to you.''
``There are three warrants out for your arrest (in Florida),'' a reporter said.
``You want to lose that camera?'' Suddick yelled back before disappearing inside the wholesale auto parts store.
In Florida, Suddick set himself up as a general contractor and embarked on a career that ended in several lawsuits, court judgments and his arrest on everything from petty theft, to working without a licence, to forging a cheque.
Facing possible jail in Florida, Suddick returned to Ontario, apparently in January, 1999.
Back in Canada, he began working almost immediately as a delivery man for Satellite, using a Toyota Camry registered to his father.
He has been staying at his parents' home on Black Walnut Dr. in the Legacy subdivision at 14th Ave. and Markham Rd., a golfing community where houses sell for as much as $500,000.
He keeps a low profile, not turning on any lights in the house when he comes home at night or gets up in the morning. Neighbours say they see little of him, except on the odd Friday when he puts out the garbage.
The Star's pursuit of the Suddick case began in December, when Levesque received the letter from the province and called The Star.
``I'm mad . . . I'm frustrated . . . I can't believe they're closing my case and saying it's up to me to get new information in order to reopen it,'' said Levesque, 39, who takes home $250 a week from her job in an electronics store in Barrie.
She and Suddick married in 1983. Suddick worked at a variety of jobs, including selling real estate for Jane McGivern Ltd. out of a Unionville office, where Levesque was the receptionist.
The marriage was a troubled one, she said. Levesque has since remarried and has a 2 1/2-year-old daughter with her new husband.
She said Suddick hasn't seen his daughter Valerie for six years and Suddick's parents haven't seen her for two to three years.
Suddick's father Patrick is a retired Honeywell Canada executive whose lifetime accomplishments, including being a member of a Canadian delegation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), were listed in the 1988 edition of the Canadian Who's Who.
Patrick Suddick said he doesn't approve of the way his son has handled the child support issue: ``This is not the way to do things.'' However, he added that Mark believes Levesque has been unreasonable in not allowing him to see his daughter.
Levesque acknowledged that she only allowed access to her daughter when the grandparents were present. She also says her ex-husband routinely missed visits.
The Suddick case is all too typical, said Renate Diorio, founder of the Brampton-based self-help group, Families Against Deadbeats.
She said deadbeat parents often avoid paying support by living with relatives, becoming self-employed and putting assets in other people's names. The government's new enforcement procedures were supposed to put a stop to this, but Diorio says it hasn't worked.
``We have a lot of women in Harriet's situation here in Ontario,'' she said.
Brendan Crawley, a spokesperson for the Family Responsibility Office, said the government sends out letters like the one Levesque received ``only after it has used a full range of enforcement options - in other words after it has done everything it can.''
Levesque was told ``enforcement of the (support) order is otherwise unreasonable or impractical.''
But Crawley wouldn't say what steps were taken in the Suddick case, citing privacy laws.
The government can revoke driver's licences and report delinquents to credit bureaus. It can also make support orders against third parties who shelter a deadbeat's assets, seize lottery winnings of over $1,000, and put liens on cars, boats, houses and other property owned by a deadbeat.
Ministry of Transportation records show Suddick's driver's licence was suspended on Sept. 22, 1999 - but for non-payment of traffic fines, not child support. Suddick paid the fines and the suspension was lifted this week, after Suddick was asked by Star reporters how he could drive for a living with a suspended licence.
Crawley wouldn't say why the government didn't suspend Suddick's licence over his child support debt.
In 1998, the government emphasized that cases like Suddick's went to collection agencies only after other enforcement mechanisms had failed, such as suspending licences.
In those tough cases, the collection agencies do the ``fine detective work'' the government doesn't have time to do, a spokesperson said in a 1998 interview.
But neither the government nor the collection agencies it hired would say what that means.
Typically, collection agencies send letters to debtors indicating they've taken on a case. Once that's done, the agencies can phone friends, relatives or employers to get the debtor's phone number and address. They then contact that person, demanding the money owed. Wages can be garnisheed, but only with a court order.
In the Suddick case, the collection agency returned the file to the attorney general's ministry, saying it couldn't find assets or income for Suddick.
Crawley said the ministry in such cases has no choice but to wait for more information about Levesque's ex.
``How am I supposed to find him?'' asked Levesque. ``He has a long history of avoiding the authorities.''
Mark Edward Suddick moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1995 to live with his parents at their posh, pastel-coloured home backing on to the manicured greens of The Meadows Golf and Country Club.
Florida records show he ran at least two businesses out of the home at 5548 Chanteclaire, where a golf cart and a Volvo compete for room in the garage.
His mother Mary, father and brother Paul Suddick, a real estate agent in the area, recommended him to residents in the exclusive Meadows community, some of his customers said.
Four years later, Suddick was facing a variety of criminal charges arising out of MSC Contracting, the home-renovation business he ran out of his parents' home. And his victims were out thousands of dollars.
Cody Harrison, a Sarasota high-school teacher, rues the day she hired Mark Suddick to enclose a porch at the back of her home. What should have been a $6,000 job ended up costing her more than $16,000 after inspectors put a stop-work order on Suddick's partially finished job and ordered it torn down.
Harrison later learned Suddick had not obtained a permit to do the work and was not a licensed contractor in the state of Florida.
Because Suddick had not paid his suppliers, Harrison found herself fending off a lawsuit from a subcontractor. In addition, Sarasota County officials threatened to fine her $500 a day until Suddick's work was corrected.
``I was just berserk,'' Harrison said. ``I was so angry it was scary. It was one of those instances I was lucky I didn't have a gun.''
Harrison hired Suddick on a recommendation from her neighbours, Ray and June Bray. The couple, who were good friends of the Suddick family, had entrusted their own $17,000 renovation job to Suddick while they vacationed in England. They returned to find their home ``looking like a tornado had gone through it.''
``Mark was so incompetent,'' June Bray said. ``He didn't even know how to wire the ceiling fan.''
Al Pinter, 73, advanced Suddick $70 - half the $140 he contracted for the installation of a water filter under the kitchen sink.
When Suddick failed to do the work, Pinter went to the police, who charged Suddick with petty theft. The state attorney withdrew the charges after a $70 cheque drawn on Mary and Patrick Suddick's account was left on the Pinters' doorstep.
There are currently three warrants for Suddick's arrest in Florida: two in Sarasota County on criminal charges of acting as a contractor without a licence and the third, in nearby Manatee County, for forging a cheque.
That charge alleges that on Aug. 21, 1998, Suddick tried to cash a forged cheque for $300 at the Huntington Bank in Bradenton, Fla. The account holder, John Waldrop, told police he closed the account because someone stole his cheque book. Waldrop denied it was his signature on the cheque that Suddick attempted to cash.
Suddick was arrested but released on a $1,000 bond posted by his father. The senior Suddick forfeited the money when Mark failed to show for trial in January, 1999.
A state attorney told the judge in Bradenton that Suddick fled to Canada to avoid prosecution in Florida. The judge issued an arrest warrant and ordered a $25,000 cash bond if he's arrested.
At about the same time, another judge in Sarasota ordered Suddick jailed for five days for refusing to divulge his assets in a lawsuit that Pat and Henry Gieseler brought against him after they paid $1,150 for remodelling work that was never finished and resulted in $800 in damages to a carpet, ceiling and walls.
``I got him in jail once. He hated it,'' said Pat Gieseler, one of five Florida residents and businesses who have won judgments against Suddick, none of which has been paid.
Suddick was released after only two days in jail when he produced a list showing his worldly possessions amounted to only $750, including a broken VCR valued at $20 and a wrist watch worth $2.
Two other arrest warrants were issued in Sarasota County after Suddick failed to show for trial on three charges of operating as a contractor without a licence or permits. A $50,000 bond is attached to those warrants should he come into custody anywhere in the state of Florida.
In addition, Florida has suspended his Florida driver's license for non-payment of fines and failure to appear in court. Suddick was arrested in Sarasota in December, 1997 for speeding and driving with an expired licence sticker.
A trial date was set for Feb. 11, 1998, but he again failed to show. His licence was suspended effective Jan. 22, 1999.
Police in Florida believe Suddick fled the Sunshine State that month, after telling the public defender in Sarasota he was not prepared to serve any more time in an American jail.
In two sworn affidavits after his arrests in Florida, Suddick said he had no children and does not pay any child support.
As longtime residents of The Meadows, where homes sell for up to $250,000 (U.S.), Patrick and Mary Suddick introduced Mark to potential clients and he used their home to showcase his work, June Bray told The Star.
`They're closing my case and saying it's up to me to get new information in order to reopen it'
The Suddicks also provided their son with at least three vehicles to carry out his home renovation business.
In an interview this week, Patrick Suddick said his son's business in Florida had nothing to do with them. People hired Mark because ``they wanted an inexpensive price and he likely had the lowest price,'' Patrick Suddick said.
Both his parents believe Mark's unhappy customers were ``unreasonable,'' and that Mark did not profit financially from his business. ``They were piddly jobs,'' said Patrick Suddick. ``And a lot of the money Mark took in went for materials.
``I don't feel responsible, other than being the parent,'' he said, adding that his son needs the family's financial help because he has not made enough money to get by on his own.
``Believe me, I have tried desperately over the years ever since this young man was a kid to keep him on the straight and narrow, not that he has wavered from it, except this (child support) business. . .
``Unfortunately Mark has got some problems. He is not completely capable of handling himself properly,'' the senior Suddick said. ``He's got ADD (attention deficit disorder), is dyslexic and he doesn't handle these things very well.
``What would you have us do? Kick him out on the street?''
Patricia Orwen, The Star's social policy reporter, can be reached at 869-4442 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Investigative reporter Dale Brazao can be reached at 869-4433 or email@example.com.
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