Loophole of the Year: Billionaire Adopts Girlfriend to Protect Assets

February 3, 2012  |  

When I first read that a billionaire had adopted his girlfriend, I thought he was on some sort of creepy Morgan Freeman-type ish, but turns out the adoption is a legal maneuver to protect assets in a pending civil suit.

John Goodman, founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Fl, is being sued for the wrongful death of Scott Patrick Wilson, a 23-year-old he struck and killed in a drunk-driving accident in February 2010. Wanting to protect his earnings, estimated at several hundred million dollars, the 48-year-old adopted his girlfriend of two years, Heather Laruso Hutchins, in October, putting money in a trust for the 42-year-old who is now his child, legally.

West Palm Beach Judge Glenn Kelley wrote in a court order that these moves “border on the surreal and take the Court into a legal twilight zone.”

“The Defendant has effectively diverted a significant portion of the assets of the children’s trust to a person with whom he is intimately involved at a time when his personal assets are largely at risk in this case.”

Goodman has two biological children but they’re under 35, the pre-determined age at which they can control their trust funds. Since Hutchins is over the age of 35, her adoption entitles her to a one-third beneficiary interest in the trust. Previously, the court ruled that the assets owned by Goodman’s children could not be considered as part of his net worth in calculations for assessing punitive damages, but with this adoption, the family of Scott Patrick says that should change.

On the flip side, Goodman’s attorney, Daniel Bachi, maintains that “Nothing in this arrangement with Ms. Hutchins is illegal.”

“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.”

Even though Goodman has thrown the legal system for a financial loop, nothing can protect him from the potential 30-year sentence he could receive if convicted in the drunk-driving case. Goodman’s civil trial is set for March 27 and his criminal trial for charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and leaving the scene of a crash is on March 6.

What do you think about this legal move? Genius or creepy?

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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