A once-prominent Tampa businessman who has been on the run from the law since December was ordered today held without bail on a tax evasion case in which federal prosecutors say he owes tens of millions of dollars.
John Stanton, who turns 64 on Friday, says he's broke and is living off the largesse of friends, holed up in hotels and surviving a transient lifestyle.
Prosecutors have a different take. One of those hotels, they say, was a Hilton in South Florida where they say Stanton stayed for three months, registered under a different name, and ran up a $22,000 bill. They scoffed at Stanton's assertion he is broke, though they said they don't know where he has stashed his money, maybe as much as tens of millions of dollars.
Once co-owner of Cast-Crete Corp. of Seffner, one of the nation's biggest manufacturers of precast concrete materials, Stanton appeared in federal court this morning, bedraggled, thin and gray, for a bail hearing and arraignment on the tax fraud charges.
He had been a wanted man since December when a Hillsborough circuit judge issued an arrest warrant on a contempt of court charge. That charge stemmed from his divorce case when he defied an order to pay more than $6 million to his ex-wife.
Stanton was arrested in Orange County last week; that's when an indictment charging him with the eight counts of tax fraud was unsealed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Monk said Stanton is not broke but that he has concealed his cache of cash well.
Stanton siphoned off "tens of millions of dollars" from Cast-Crete, the prosecutor said. Between 2005 and 2007, the company made a profit of $108 million and owed taxes amounting to $37 million, which was never paid because tax returns for those years were never filed. Stanton also didn't file tax returns on his income or for a company he set up during that time, Monk said.
Over those three years, Stanton diverted $43 million from Cast-Crete to his own company and into his own pocket, Monk said.
"We don't know at this time the disposition of the tens of millions of dollars that Mr. Stanton took from that company," the prosecutor said.
Monk did not dispute that Stanton was living out of various hotels.
"Since December he has moved from address to address and has no stable residence," Monk said. At none of the hotels did he register under his own name, Monk said.
Stanton skillfully evaded arrest until he was nabbed last week at a Fairfield Inn in Orlando, Monk said, outside a room registered in the name of his girlfriend.
The former accountant is facing tax fraud charges that can result in up to 15 years in prison.
The prison time alone "is a powerful incentive for Mr. Stanton to continue his demonstrated course of conduct," Monk said, "and that is to run and hide."
Defense attorney Paul DeCailly, though, said his client is broke. "He has nothing right now," he said.
His client fled, DeCailly said, because he felt the courts were "treating him poorly."
Stanton, who pleaded innocent of the charges today, isn't a danger to the community and would agree to get a permanent address and a job in the Tampa area if the court would set bail, the attorney said. Stanton has a history and relatives here, is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and gives to charities, DeCailly said.
U.S. Magistrate Anthony Porcelli sided with the government in refusing to set bail, agreeing that if a court ruling doesn't go his way, Stanton is a flight risk.
"If you are unsatisfied," Porcelli said, "there is nothing to prevent you from running. It's a clear indication to me that … you have no regard for the law."
Porcelli set a pretrial hearing in the tax fraud case for Oct. 18, with a tentative trial date set for November.
Besides a slew of creditors and the IRS, Stanton owes his ex-wife and son $6.5 million in alimony and child support, court documents say. The child support case is pending in Hillsborough County family court but won't be taken up until the federal charges are resolved.
Last year, Stanton filed for personal bankruptcy protection. He listed estimated assets of $100 million to $500 million and estimated liabilities of $10 million to $50 million.
In December, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Caroline Tesche issued an arrest warrant for Stanton on criminal contempt charges for neglecting to pay the money he owes his ex-wife, Susan, and the couple's young son, Wade.
Susan Stanton split with Stanton a few years ago and now lives in California.