March 4, 2000
How one deadbeat dad is living high on the hog
HIGH LIFE: Blaine Tanner, one of the province's worst deadbeat parents, lives in a stately home in Cleveland.
Former Brampton man owes $500,000 to his 3 childrenBy Dale Brazao and Patricia Orwen
Toronto Star Staff Reporters
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio - The Valley of God's Pleasure is where Blaine Alfred Tanner lives - and as addresses go, it's a pretty good description.
Tanner, a former Brampton resident, shares a stately Georgian-style home on a tree-lined street in this Cleveland neighbourhood with his new wife. In the driveway sits a $50,000 Volvo sports car, ready for the quick drive to the exclusive Beechmont Country Club, where Tanner hobnobs with the rich and powerful.
But the posh trappings hide a tawdry secret.
Tanner owes more than $500,000 in support to his three children in Ontario, two of whom are disabled. Tack on the 11 per cent interest accrued since 1991 and that makes the 46-year-old man one of the province's worst deadbeat parents.
Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has been unable to collect any of the child support arrears owing in the nine years since an Ontario judge ordered Tanner to pay $4,000 a month.
Meanwhile, his ex-wife, Pamela Tanner, says she and her children have had to resort to food banks and the kindness of friends and relatives.
``If he won't support his children, I won't let him live comfortably anywhere,'' Tanner says of her ex-husband, who has been convicted of tax evasion and fraud in Canada.
In a bid to wipe out the arrears, this month Blaine Tanner's ninth lawyer in nine years will argue in an Ontario court that his client is too poor to pay.
``I'm not even employed,'' Tanner said in an affidavit filed three months ago, claiming he was financially dependent on his current wife, a prominent Cleveland lawyer. ``The suggestion that I am `financially flush' is a figment of (Pam Tanner's) imagination.''
Tanner has said he wants to support his children, but that payments should be based on what he is now able to pay. He claims, in court documents, that he has no money and has been virtually unemployed since his businesses collapsed in 1991 - the year he was charged with tax evasion in Canada in connection with $1.3 million in federal scientific research grants that one of his companies received in 1984.
Three years later, Tanner was sentenced to six months in jail and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine or be jailed for another six months.
While he served two months of that six-month sentence, a justice department official told The Star that Tanner has never paid the fine and that the department doesn't know where he is.
Contrary to his sworn affidavits, The Star's investigation found that Tanner appears to be working as a financial adviser and money manager.
Corporate searches in Ohio show Tanner set up Guardian Advisor Corp., which provides financial advice, in Cleveland in April, 1998. Credit bureau checks show his involvement in related companies Guardian Capital and Guardian Shield.
The Star spoke with Tanner in Cleveland, moments after he pulled into the downtown Bond Court Office building in a 1998 navy blue Volvo C-70 sports coupe.
His office is on the premises of the legal firm of his wife, Ellen S. Simon, a Cleveland lawyer who specializes in civil rights and employment equity and has pioneered sexual harassment litigation in the state.
Despite repeated requests, Simon - who married Tanner in December, 1997 - would not make herself available for an interview.
When asked about the companies, Tanner said he manages his wife's family assets under the Guardian Group umbrella.
``I have just managed to be able to put a small business together on the back of my wife's reputation.
``The Guardian Group, which isn't mine. I mean, I manage my wife's family's assets for Christ's sake. It's a made-up job,'' Tanner said, adding that his company, Guardian Advisor, ``has never earned anything.''
Ellen Simon's father, Sydney Simon, a wealthy real estate developer in Cleveland, says that as far as he knows, the Guardian Group belongs to Tanner, but that his son-in-law is not managing any of his finances.
``I have . . . absolutely nothing to do with him,'' Sydney Simon said from his winter home in Florida. ``I think the story he told you is wrong. He might be managing his wife's (assets), but not his wife's family, no.''
Simon said he is aware of Tanner's criminal record in Canada and so is his daughter. ``They got married against my wishes, she's my daughter, and what could I do?''
Simon said Tanner told him he was pardoned for his crimes in Canada and that he didn't serve jail time.
Provincial officials refused to discuss the Tanner case, citing privacy laws, but they told The Star that of the province's 128,000 deadbeats, just half a dozen owe between $500,000 and $600,000 each in unpaid support, not including interest.
The Tanner divorce has become a no-holds-barred battle between a woman who claims in court documents that her ex-husband ``abused, rejected and abandoned his children'' and a man who calls his ex-wife ``vindictive and manipulative.''
Pamela Tanner, 44, points to Blaine's criminal record for fraud as evidence that he is now attempting to convince the courts he has no money to avoid paying his children.
Blaine Tanner, meanwhile, says his ex-wife has denied him access to his children.
Caught in the middle are the children, a 12-year-old boy, and two girls, aged 14 and 16. Two of the children have such severe problems that the family qualifies for provincial disability assistance.
In a 1992 letter filed in Ontario court, child psychiatrist Dr. Anne LaForte wrote that after assessing the Tanner children, she concluded all three would be better off if they had no contact with their father.
The children told her of ``excessive physical discipline'' by their father and witnessing his drug use after the couple separated, LaForte said.
Blaine Tanner denies this.
``Although I am sympathetic to the alleged medical conditions of . . . my children, I deny that I am the cause of their various illnesses or that my inability to pay child support has had any bearing on their health,'' Tanner writes in his affidavit of Nov. 30, 1999.
``The fact is that the respondent is a manipulative and vindictive woman.''
Despite having lived in Cleveland since December, 1997, after marrying Simon, Tanner filed a 1998 income tax return listing as his address a post office box in Mahone Bay, N.S., where his parents live. Tanner also maintains a phone number there.
Contacted this week by The Star, his mother Margaret said Blaine was ``out of town on business'' but ``should be home in a few weeks.''
At no time did Tanner tell his ex-wife and children that he had remarried and moved. It was Pam Tanner who last year discovered her ex-husband's new life, after tracing to Cleveland a rare birthday present he sent their youngest child.
Blaine Tanner applied for permanent U.S. residency and a work permit in January, 1999, but says in an affidavit that processing is being held up.
``I am informed that the cancellation of my passport because of support arrears will prevent any further immigration process,`` he says in his affidavit signed in Cleveland last November.
Blaine Tanner and Pam Stutz met in July, 1982 on her father's boat, Beachcomber, moored in Toronto's harbour. A whirlwind romance followed.
``He fell madly in love with me,'' Pam told The Star, saying she too fell for the dashing, smooth-talking entrepreneur. When they married eight months later, Pam was five months pregnant. It was his second marriage, her third.
While Pam raised the couple's growing family, Blaine concentrated on building his businesses.
The first signs of trouble came in 1984, when police raided their home. Officers were looking into companies Blaine had set up in Bermuda under her name, companies Pam Tanner, who was born in Bermuda, says she knew nothing about.
Later that year, Blaine Tanner and his lawyer were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. Tanner pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of making a false statement.
In February, 1988, Tanner was sentenced to 60 days in jail for ``willful blindness'' and uttering a false statement in connection with a grant application under the province's small business development plan. His lawyer was sentenced to nine months for conspiring to defraud the government of $150,000, involving the same grant. He was later disbarred.
In May, 1989, the couple moved into a $825,000 custom-built home in Brampton with L-shaped indoor pool. They immediately spent another $300,000 in upgrades, Pam Tanner says.
Blaine Tanner became president of Fort Financial Services. According to a letter of reference issued by the parent company in the Channel Islands, his salary in 1990 was $226,000.
The Toronto-based company specialized in creating companies to shelter money offshore. Documents obtained by The Star show that Tanner wrote to several Colombian businessmen in 1990 offering his company's service in sheltering ``any and all currencies.''
``We specialize in forming companies, particularly companies registered in low tax areas,'' Tanner wrote in May, 1990. ``In some cases these companies are totally exempt from taxation.''
As Tanner's fortunes grew, so did the problems in and outside his marriage.
By late 1989, Pam had become frustrated by her husband's absences and his lavish spending.
But it was her husband's abuse of alcohol and drugs that led to the marriage breakdown, Pam Tanner said in her 1991 divorce petition.
Blaine Tanner counters in his 1991 affidavits filed in Brampton that it was Pam's infidelity, her own drug use and aggressive behaviour that was to blame.
Pam Tanner claims in court documents that her ex-husband sold two companies in 1989 for more than $2.3 million and moved most of the proceeds into secret bank accounts offshore. Blaine Tanner insists in court documents ``there is no money offshore or anywhere else.''
Included in Pam Tanner's court file is a bank transfer note showing $1.1 million to the Channel islands in 1989.
Pam and Blaine Tanner separated on Jan. 14, 1991. Her petition for divorce, heard on April Fool's Day, 1991, was granted on May 2, 1997.
In those six years, everything changed.
During that time, the house with the pool was sold for $700,000. Using the $72,000 that was left after mortgages and other debts were paid off, Pam says she moved the children into a more modest home in Brampton and went on government assistance.
Although Blaine had been ordered to pay $4,000 in monthly support payments for his children in 1991, he cried poverty and made none.
In May, 1992, Pam Tanner says her husband moved to London, England. He returned to Canada in March, 1994, to begin serving the six-month jail term, after pleading guilty to evading $360,000 in income tax in connection with the 1991 charge.
That conviction added to his criminal record, which dates back to 1975, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of break, enter and theft, credit card fraud, and impersonation.
After his 1994 release, Blaine Tanner moved in with his parents, and for a time, was on social assistance.
In March, 1996, Tanner declared personal bankruptcy, leaving his creditors on the hook for $271,813. His discharge 10 months later wiped out all his debts - including $90,000 to Revenue Canada.
But it did not wipe out the $501,000 the Family Responsibility Office says he still owes.
In 1997, he met Simon on vacation in the Caribbean. A whirlwind romance began. Soon Tanner was flying to Cleveland for visits. He bought Simon a large diamond engagement ring, just months after he declared bankruptcy. Their wedding took place on a Caribbean island and Tanner then moved into Simon's home in the posh Cleveland neighbourhood dubbed the Valley of God's Pleasure by early settlers.
Meanwhile, Pam and the children were destitute.
``I go to the Salvation Army food bank once every four weeks by appointment,'' Pam Tanner wrote in an affidavit filed in August, 1997.
``We cannot afford to purchase meat. We receive a care package from the Salvation Army with a turkey and a couple of presents for the children.''
Last November, Blaine Tanner served his ex-wife with his motion to have the arrears eradicated. To plead his case this month in a Milton court, Tanner has hired top Bay St. divorce lawyer Harold Niman.
In the meantime, Mr. Justice Jack Belleghem has ordered Tanner to pay $25,000 into the court by March 15, and take out a $500,000 life insurance policy, or face contempt of court charges, commenting that his frequent change of lawyers ``amounts to an abuse of the system.''
`I go to the Salvation Army food bank once every four weeks . . . We cannot afford to purchase meat. We receive a care package from the Salvation Army with a turkey and a couple of presents for the children.'
- Pam Tanner
Pam Tanner would receive $15,000 of that money, and Ontario's social services ministry, would receive $10,000.
The ministry, which has been supporting Pam Tanner and the children, is owed an estimated $160,000.
If the arrears were to be paid in full, the ministry would be reimbursed those funds.
The lawyer acting for the Family Responsibility Office, Mahzulfah Uppal, told the judge that Blaine Tanner is deliberately avoiding his obligations.
``Mr. Tanner has put himself into this position; has made himself judgment- proof; has not been available in this province for any kind of enforcement,'' Uppal said. ``The taxpayers of Ontario have been supporting these children.''
The Ontario court decision may also have ramifications for Tanner's current wife, Ellen Simon.
In June, 1998, the province introduced new enforcement measures that allow the Family Responsibility Office to obtain financial statements of defaulters and make support orders against third parties who shelter the defaulter's assets, even if they are outside Canada.
A third party could include the defaulter's new spouse, parents and friends.
Pat Orwen is The Star's social policy writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Investigative reporter Dale Brazao can be reached at email@example.com.
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