When his ex-wife falsely accused him of shirking on $3,632.25 in child support, Miami businessman Tony Schehtman discovered that the government had stripped him of his passport.
That sparked a lengthy legal dispute that ended in unusual fashion: a Miami-Dade judge chastised prosecutors for going along with the claim, then ordered them to pay Schehtman’s legal bills.
The judge’s unusually scathing order sanctions prosecutors and Schehtman’s ex-wife, ordering them to each pay $7,645 in legal fees. Circuit Judge Pedro Echarte, in his Jan. 8 order, called their actions “reprehensible” and “irresponsible.”
The judge said that even though Schehtman had proven he was not in arrears, the prosecutors failed to correct the wife’s claim, instead quibbling in court for months and hindering Schehtman’s ability to travel for work.
“This court finds that the State Attorney’s Office engaged in pointless litigation,” Echarte wrote.
Prosecutors have decided against asking a higher court to review the judge’s decision.
“We are not appealing the judge’s order despite a belief in the merits of our position,” said spokesman Ed Griffith.
The legal clash stems from a bitter divorce between Schehtman and former wife, Lina Maya-Schehtman. Together, they have a 6-year-old son.
Schehtman describes himself as the CEO of International Technologies Marketing, a tech sales firm focused on Latin America.
The State Attorney’s Office, through Florida’s Department of Revenue, is tasked with enforcing the payment of child support.
In December 2010, Maya-Schehtman went to the State Attorney’s Office and filed a routine sworn-affidavit alleging her ex-husband was late on child support.
Schehtman, the judge later found, filed documents with the court and prosecutors showing the affidavit was wrong. Prosecutors nevertheless “certified” the delinquent child support, reporting it through a computer system to the Florida Department of Revenue.
In Tallahassee, any “non-custodial” parent who owes more than $2,500 in back support is then automatically reported to a federal child support office, which then notifies the U.S. State Department — which then freezes the person’s passport.
Schehtman — who says he travels often to Latin American for business — did not know the document had been frozen until he went to renew his passport. He was out of work for several months, his lawyer say.
“This is one of the most egregious cases I have ever witnessed in 19 years of practicing family law,” said Schehtman’s lawyer, Jonathan Jonasz.
A slew of court hearings followed. Prosecutor Stephen Glazer told the judge that as they soon as they learned the wife was wrong, they tried to amend the affidavit. Echarte didn’t buy it.
The State Attorney Office’s said the case has sparked change in internal policy. Now, the office does not report back child support payments to Tallahassee based only on a sworn affidavit — instead, prosecutors wait for a court order.
“We acknowledge that no system is infallible,” spokesman Griffith said. “The State Attorney and her leadership team are constantly seeking ways to improve the process. This case has afforded such an opportunity.”
Schehtman has since hired San Francisco lawyer John G. Heller to explore a civil lawsuit.
“The State Attorney deprived a law-abiding citizen of a fundamental liberty: his freedom of movement,” Heller said. “We will do what it takes to make sure this never happens again.”