Some say CT Family Court rules for lawyers with influence. Due process is unheard of. They say CT Family Court judges – most of whom were family law attorneys before they got to the bench – create law as they go, finding legal arguments for the results they want for favored attorneys, instead of finding justice, regardless of the attorney.
Judges are appointed to the bench, so they do not answer to the people. The governor appoints them with ratification from the legislature. Attorneys themselves are the biggest lobbyists for the appointment of judges.
No jury, people jailed without a trial on contempt. Rules of evidence decided by whim and caprice, admitted or not dependent on help to the favored attorney. And by definition, favoring attorneys means delivering results that make them the most money.
Some say, to make it easier for the judge to favor attorneys, the two opposing attorneys agree on how they want the judge to rule in advance. And if the adage “a good lawyer knows the law; a great lawyer knows the judge” is true anywhere, it is true in CT Family Court, where there are a lot of great lawyers.
Now listen to the story of Gus Zucco, now 53.
In 1999, he worked for a list broker in Brewster, New York. There, he met co-worker Tracy Simms, and they planned to marry.
Paired Kidney Donation or Kidney Swap
According to Michigan Medicine: If you need a kidney and have a family member or friend willing to donate one of his or her kidneys, but it cannot be done due to tissue or blood type incompatibilities, we have a potential solution.
A paired kidney exchange, also known as a “kidney swap”, occurs when a living kidney donor is incompatible with their recipient, but does match another person on the waitlist. Two live donor transplants would occur.
Suppose there were two donor/recipient pairs, Donor and Recipient 1 and Donor and Recipient 2:
Donor 1 would give a kidney to Recipient 2.
Donor 2 would then give a kidney to Recipient 1.
Through Gus’ efforts, the couple participated in a first of its kind three-way swap.
In 2012, Gus borrowed against a line of credit to invest in a reality show called American Museum and the purchase of Elvis Presley memorabilia. If the investments were profitable, he and Tracy – for she was still his wife – could make significant profits. Gus never produced the show, and the couple incurred $490,000 in debt.
Gus still had $1.6 million in savings. The money came solely from his earnings, but he put the accounts in his and his wife’s name.
Gus also purchased two houses in their names, one free and clear in Patterson, New York, worth half a million, and the Danbury home, worth about the same but mortgaged to the hilt.
In September 2012, Tracy filed for divorce in the Superior Court in the judicial district of Danbury.
She retained CT attorney Randolph Richardson, who, on her behalf, demanded half of the assets, none of the recently incurred debt, and the free and clear house in Patterson, NY for herself.
Connecticut Family Law attorney Randolph Richardson is a great lawyer who knows judges well.
Gus, Tracy said, could have the house without any equity in Danbury.
Tracy also demanded Gus pay the entire $490,000 debt for the failed Elvis Presley/TV show investments, arguing she should not have to pay for his mistake. She agreed to share his successes, but not his failures.
Gus retained Eva De Franco, and she and Tracy’s lawyer Richardson hammered out the divorce agreement before going to the court for approval.
On January 15, 2014, Judge Heidi Winslow dissolved the marriage and incorporated the agreement worked out in advance.
As per the divorce agreement, four accounts were split in half. Tracy also got the free and clear Patterson, NY house and other marital property.
Tracy’s lawyer insisted on the inclusion of a seemingly innocuous clause. Article 2.1 of the agreement provided that Gus would pay Tracy $1 (one dollar) of “alimony per year for five and one-half years.”
Alimony? A mere $1 dollar per year – and it would expire in June 2019, when all alimony obligations “shall be completely non-modifiable as to term by way of extension.”
Gus’ lawyer, Eva DeFranco, did not object. She and Tracy’s lawyer Richardson were friends for years. It was $1 per year, just symbolic. It would end on June 2019.
Later, Gus won a malpractice lawsuit against DeFranco for her representation.
While the length of the term of alimony was not modifiable, Section 2.1 of the agreement allowed Tracy to try to change that symbolic $1 per year to any number her attorney could get a judge to agree with. There were no children from the marriage. Tracy, now healthy, could work. The agreement stated that the alimony of $1 per year could be modified if Gus earned more “income from employment.”
CT Family Court dissolved her 10-year marriage, during which Tracy never worked one day or earned one dime. She depended on Gus as her caretaker when she was sick. Now that she was well, thanks to Gus, she felt it was time to move on with her life.
Tracy left the marriage with about $750,000 in cash, a house in Patterson, NY worth $500,000, two automobiles, and another $245,000 to be paid over six years as settlement on the Presley/Museum TV show. She also left the marriage with a new kidney.
In fairness, Tracy did not keep all the money for herself.
She admitted in a later proceeding that a substantial sum went to her attorney Richardson.
Legal Attack on Gus
The marriage ended in 2014. By 2015, Tracy filed a motion to modify alimony. She wanted more than a dollar per year. She wanted a decent monthly check. After all, she was not working. She lived on the million plus Gus had settled with her.
Tracy alleged Gus’ had “an increase in… income and assets, and [she had] a decrease in [her] financial circumstances.”
Since Tracy did not work and lived off of the divorce settlement, it was likely her assets were decreasing.
Gus said his income, however, did not increase.
Not satisfied with his answer, Tracy filed a motion on March 21, 2016, claiming Gus concealed $400,000 of his assets.
The new litigation further burdened Gus, who had never recovered financially from the loss of a kidney, and his wife.
His finances were in shambles. In installments, Gus had paid $139,000 of the $245,000 to Tracy from the debt he owed on the reality show. He still owed $106,000.
Gus, and his new wife, Hillary Styer, owned a small business in Gettysburg, PA. Gus and Hillary filed a voluntary Chapter 13 petition for bankruptcy in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
On May 30, 2019, Tracy made a motion to intervene in Gus’s bankruptcy to prevent him from getting bankruptcy protection, which could stop her from modifying her alimony payment in CT.
On July 2, 2019, the Bankruptcy Court granted Tracy’s motion to try to modify her alimony.
CT Family Court Judge Anthony Truglia scheduled an alimony hearing for December 5, 2019, in Danbury.
Judge Anthony J Truglia
Gus’ wife’s grandfather died in the wake of her father’s passing. Services were the day before the hearing, on December 4, and the gathering of the bereaved, and for the comfort of his wife, would continue until about 9 pm in Huntington, PA, three hours west of his home in Gettysburg, which was another five hours to Danbury.
Gus requested a bereavement continuance.
Tracy, through her attorney Richardson, fought the adjournment and submitted the obituary to the judge, arguing the funeral was December 4, and the hearing was December 5. Richardson said Gus should attend court even if he had to drive all night.
Judge Truglia understood. Richardson would have a decided advantage if Gus failed to show. The judge denied the continuance.
Gus, like he did for Tracy, chose to sacrifice his best interest for his wife, and attended the services. He spent the day with the grieving family on December 4, and stepped aside to make calls to find a CT attorney, last-minute, to represent him. He was unsuccessful.
On December 5, 2019, Judge Truglia held an evidentiary hearing on modifying Gus’ $1 per year alimony – without Gus present.
Attorney Richardson introduced Tracy’s financial affidavit and Gus’ schedule of assets, liabilities, and creditors from his bankruptcy.
Attorney Richardson examined Tracy on the witness stand. She gave uncontested testimony that Gus concealed assets and increased his income since the divorce.
Judge Truglia had a challenge. According to the divorce agreement, the alimony ended on June 2019 – five months before.
It took him seven months to find a way to rule in Richardson’s favor.
In July, 2020, Judge Truglia chose not to modify Gus’ alimony obligation from his divorce agreement. He couldn’t for the alimony term had expired. Instead he chose to cancel the old divorce agreement and rewrite it as he and Richardson liked.
Based exclusively on Tracy’s testimony and Richardson’s counsel, Judge Truglia decided Gus should pay Tracy $2,000 per month in alimony, extending Gus’ alimony to Tracy for the rest of her life.
Judge Truglia also ordered Gus to pay Tracy $110,000 in a lump sum. He figured Gus should pay $2,000 monthly retroactively, going back four and half years to December 2015.
It was the height of COVID. Gus and his wife’s business was hanging by a thread. To make the $2000 monthly payment, they handed almost all their net earnings to Tracy, while their family went without.
Gus appealed Judge Truglia’s decision in 2021. The appellate court sided with the judge of their court. The appeal was denied in August 2022.
Defeated on appeal, Gus took another avenue. He motioned to modify the alimony. At a hearing on November 1, 2021, Tracy was asked about Gus donating his kidney to her, an event that allowed her to be there that day in court 14 years later, not buried in a grave.
Tracy made it clear. Gus did not give her his kidney. She got her kidney from “another donor.”
She did not want to explain that Kwok Eng, a stranger, donated his kidney to Tracy only because John Feal donated his kidney to Eng’s wife, and Feal donated his kidney only because Gus donated his kidney to Paul Grossfield; or more plainly, Tracy would not have a new kidney, but for Gus’ donation of his kidney.
Pressed by Gus’ attorney, David DeRosa to admit it, she said “Mr. Zucco was part of the kidney swap. Paul Grossfield in New Jersey has his kidney.”
DeRosa asked, “so he gave up a kidney at some point, so you could have a kidney at some point?”
There was real money at stake. This was no time to admit even the slightest gratitude for her opponent. Instead of answering yes or no, Tracy downplayed what Gus had done, as if it were little or nothing, as if she never asked for his help. In fact, it wasn’t even her decision.
Tracy said: “My mother was one of the testers, and they decided to go with Mr. Zucco.”
Tracy won the hearing. The alimony was not modified. Gus continues to pay $2,000 per month.
Tracy then set her sights on collecting the $110,000 retroactive alimony. She retained attorney Heather Roberts licensed in Pennsylvania. Roberts is an attorney well embedded in the Gettysburg legal system. Roberts was tasked with collection.
Roberts arranged to get the case in front of PA Judge Christina Simpson, a judge whose disposition she knew well.
There is but one way to collect debts. Threaten with debtors prison.
On April 18, 2023, Judge Simpson gave attorney Roberts what she wanted. Without regard to Gus’ financial condition – and that he did not have any savings left – let alone $110,000 to pay in retroactive alimony, Judsge Simpson gave Gus 60 days till June 18, 2023, or she would find him in contempt.
If he was in contempt, as attorney Roberts surely told Tracy, Gus would go to jail, starting perhaps with 30 days to teach him a lesson.
Then, if he still did not pay, a further term of incarceration could happen swiftly.
And while he is in jail, Gus would still have to pay the $2,000 per month to keep current or be jailed further for contempt.
Today, Gus’ finances are in ruins. He barely has the money to pay alimony, and he may be in jail as early as next month.
Gus’ wife created a GoFundMe to raise funds to pay Tracy $110,000. So far, about $2,000 has been raised.
Gus with his wife, Hillary Styer, and her children
Maybe this story will attract attention from tabloids and CT may grab some needed press. It’s the kind of story the tabloids could love.
The headline: “Man Who Donated Kidney to Save Wife’s Life Is Jailed Based on Legal Trick She Played Over $1 Dollar a Year Alimony.”
The lessons to be learned are several:
Don’t get divorced in Connecticut. If you do, retain attorneys who know the judge – which also works in Pennsylvania – and think twice before you donate a kidney to a spouse. The life you save may be your own.