Dying for custody (Part 1): DOJ announces investigation into Connecticut court programs

Dying for custody (Part 1): DOJ announces investigation into Connecticut court programs

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WASHINGTON, January 24, 2014 — On January 9th, Pedro Garcia III told Connecticut’s Legislative Task Force on Family Courts that in 2009 he was worried about his children’s safety, and begged the Connecticut family courts for help protecting them. In response, the court’s Family Services Counselor told him “Pedro, you sound like a jealous ex-husband.” 

Just months later, Garcia’s ex-wife’s new boyfriend was arrested for brutally murdering his son.

Garcia is not alone.  Over 100 parents and professionals packed the same hearing to voice similar concerns that the court’s programs and services are not working for consumers, and in some cases, have shut them out of their own children’s lives while allowing pedophiles and murderers to access their kids.

Several parents explained to the task force how their life savings was diverted to family court industry insiders who routinely fail to disclose or resolve conflicts of interest on their cases. Many speculated that the State’s family court’s programs and industry professionals are working together to arbitrarily revoke their custody rights, only to have family court industry professionals sell them their parenting time back in what Michael Nowacki called “pay-per-view” doses of therapy, assessments, court dates, and supervised visitation programs prescribed by the courts.

Parents also say their cases are being inappropriately handled by current mediation and domestic violence screening protocols used by the Connecticut family courts, which are based in part on a DOJ funded study conducted by Jessica Pearson and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. Pearson was a Judicial Branch contractor who co-founded the controversial family court industry corporation with the court employees she worked with.

Following the hearing, some parents received letters from the US Department of Justice confirming the agency has initiated an investigation into the Connecticut Judicial Branch’s handling of cases involving disabled litigants.

Parents without disabilities want the DOJ to do more, and wonder whether there is a corrupt federally funded policy driving so many troubling case outcomes?


Each year, the Connecticut Judicial Branch received federal funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) and the Department of Justice to fund the court’s programs and services. The purpose of OCSE’s Access and Visitation program and Responsible Fatherhood Initiative (also funded by special legislation on the State level), is allegedly to enforce child support orders and help noncustodial fathers like Garcia gain access to their children.

Torrington father Ron Tolmoff told task force members that while the court efficiently addresses the financial concerns of the professionals assigned to his custody case, no one appears concerned by the fact that he has not seen his son in years.

Tolmoff says that the court was initially inefficient [at best] at assisting him when Robert Zaslow, the guardian ad litem appointed to his case, repeatedly obstructed his access to his son’s educational records. Upon obtaining the records, Tolmoff was distraught to discover that accused prolific pedophile priest Richard McGann was on the pick up list—but he the father was not.

In 2011, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)  discovered the accused pedophile living at a Hartford daycare center. SNAP reported McGann’s whereabouts to Department of Public Health after it was reported to them that the archdiocese suspended McGann from the priesthood and paid out “a substantial amount” in connections with allegations McGann had repeatedly raped and exploited children during his tenure as a priest.

Tolmoff reports he has paid out over $50,000 to questionable family court industry professionals for questionable services that often times were unnecessary and always fruitless in his quest to convince the court to require his ex to allow him to spend quality time with his son.

“It only took 30 days to enforce child support and a fraudulent arrearage amount of $20,000 when I only owe $5,000 with lack of fair hearing or verification. They collect more from my paycheck that what the order states…” says Tolmoff. “They have attached my wages, income tax returns, and threaten me with many aweful remedies that harm my family…but not once have they enforced visitation orders.”


Since taking office in 2008, President Barack Obama has made controversial OCSE initiatives a top priority for his administration, yet experts say that in many cases, the programs may not be helping good fathers, but arbitrarily decreasing the number of fit fathers and mothers who have custody in order to meet the federal funding mandates. The programs then provide these noncustodial parents (some of whom are recruited from prison) with “technical assistance” (legal assistance, supervised visitation, waived criminal penalties, reunification therapy) in gaining custody of the children they may or may not be fit to raise.

Records show that in 2002, a Washington based demonstration project overseen by Pearson used the OCSE funds to help Beltway Sniper John Muhammad sue his ex wife for custody. Mildred had only recently located her children after John kidnapped them, moved into a shelter, and enrolled them in school under fake names. When Mildred took the children into hiding, John embarked on a cross-country shooting spree that left 9 people dead.

In Connecticut, the court’s AV program grants are partnered with Fatherhood programs and overseen by Task Force member Joseph DiTunno, who is a manager in the Court Support Services Division. The funding is used to sponsor the court’s mediation programs, supervised visitation, and court operations.

At last week’s hearing, several mothers testified that judges often awarded sole custody of their children to violent criminals, then ordered fit mothers with no history of abusing or neglecting their children to purchase parenting time from supervised visitation centers. They say the courts refused to allow them to utilize the federally subsidized services, essentially starving them out of their parenting rights.

In 2010, the Judicial Branch signed a multi-agency agreement between the Judicial Branch, the Department of Corrections, Department of Parole and other agencies which requires signatories to use State resources to promote the Responsible Fatherhood industry, or rather, to deliberately discriminate against parents on the basis of gender in various government services affecting the outcome of custody cases. DiTunno is listed on the agreement as the CSSD contact liaison.

Michigan based Father’s Rights activist Doug Dante also questions what the grants are being used for.

“It does not appear that there is meaningful federal control or supervision which would prevent fraud, waste, and abuse at the parenting time program,” says Dante. “In at least one state other than Connecticut there is significant evidence of grossly inflated fees, serious financial conflicts of interest, and underhanded activities by parenting time coordinators.”


Tolmoff testified that Zaslow failed to disclose his conflict of interest that he is an AFCC member, and he founded and operates a trade association for family court industry professionals together with some of other professionals assigned to his case. Parents like Peter Szymonik testified to similar experiences with AFCC proprietors and speculated that the Judicial Branch’s own investment in the corporation’s services may be the reason why so many complaints about AFCC affiliates were dismissed by authorities without proper investigation.

In 2001, CSSD Director and AFCC past President Robert Tompkins received an award from the AFCC, and CSSD manager Steven Grant was elected to AFCC’s board of directors. According to AFCC member/donor/CSSD Regional Manager Debra Kulak, the Judicial Branch subsequently awarded the AFCC a contract to “research” and set up the court’s case screening protocols.  The “research” team includedDiTunno and AFCC affiliated CSSD employees Grant, Kulak, and Catherine Ceruti.In 2009, Judicial Branch Operations Manager Marilou Giovannucci won an award from AFCC for her “behind the scenes efforts in helping the association reach new audiences and expand its reach.”

Controversy arose in 2013 when several Connecticut judges and court employees founded a State chapter of the trade association together with some of the professionals who appear before them on family court cases. The Judicial Branch then paid the corporation to conduct trainings usually allocated to said AFCC affiliated employees.

In 2013, the Commission on Judicial Ethics ruled that judicial membership in such organizations is a violation of professional codes of conduct, yet the Judicial Review Commission subsequently dismissed all complaints filed by parents against AFCC affiliated judges who heard cases involving other AFCC proprietors. The Secretary of State’s office has not recorded any changes to the corporation’s board of directors since the corporation’s establishment.

What are AFCC proprietors training the Judicial Branch to do?

Most parents testified that they initially agreed to joint custody, only to have their rights revoked for arbitrary reasons. This could mean CSSD’s programs are working as intended, as the grants can only be justified if offenders and noncustodial parents increase their time with children. While the programs may decline to assist fathers like Tolmoff, the system appears to be working extremely well for predators like [ex] Father McGann.



Live video of the hearing:


Written testimony:


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  • Marisa Ringel

    Great research Ann! Your work has been helping to turn out parents out there who have been suffering silently not knowing that this is a state-wide problem that is trickling down onto their cases making them run amuk. I just heard from a mother who wrote to me that she thought it was just her until she learned about this public hearing. Now she wants to tell her story too although anonymously as we are getting retaliated upon by our Judges and GALs for speaking out. I look forward to reading the next parts. Congratulations on the great work! – Marisa, Parent Without Justice in Connecticut

  • Ling Noonan

    The hearings in Hartford demonstrated the suffering the children experience. It troubles me when I think that Adam Lanza was a victim of divorce and perhaps the negative consequences of divorce. Parental alienation was a hot topic among the witness testimony. I am concerned if children are allowed to be put through this State sponsored meat grinder, will we be facing more instances of dysfunction and violence. The State has to stop picking winners and losers when it comes to our children. It is not enough for the State to intervene after the carnage. Carnage is being experience right now by a State sponsored, taxpayer funded system, void of conscience until it becomes a major problem.

  • Hector

    Thank you Ann for your continuing coverage of the serious problems with the CT Family Court system. Its sad how they can pick and choose when something is a problem or not. As in the Garcia and many other cases the court completely overlooked the problem. Then there are cases when the courts for whatever reason, typically when a parent has the audacity to challenge a GAL, will fabricate a problem against a parent. Gal immunity must be removed.

  • Andrea Cota

    Excellent article Anne. We parents and our children should not have to give up our lives like this precious baby did to get justice. Senator Nancy Schaefer and others have also given up their lives to make our Country a place of Freedom and Justice for all. I am very happy the Department of Justice and others are getting so involved to put an end to this family court corruption and to bring Our Children Home.

  • Susan Skipp

    The gal system abolished
    Caps on divorce lawyer charges
    Afcc out if court system
    Ethical grievance panel
    Ethical judicial review committee
    Get rid of the worse offending judges.
    Criminal proceedings for vendors, GAL, and judges.
    Open the cases and review them for legality and give people access to their children.
    Accept no federal funding that is gender specific.
    Accept no funding from churches
    State of CT stop destroying my kids and everyone else’s.

  • Susan Skipp

    Thank you anne- hear your nominated for Pulitzer in investigative research !!

  • Colleen Vollhardt Safyre

    Your article is terrific. I am glad I got the chance to meet you in Hartford. I am sorry that we were not able to get together due to the snow. Again, great article, as was your testimony. For all those concerned parents out there, I am sure we all thank you.
    Colleen Safyre

  • sandy smith

    its not a surprise.the whole country has the same rules.giving custody to abusers.well they have figured out not to send a dog back.But humans are not on the same level!

    All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
    edmund Burke

  • Kristen

    Thank you Ann for getting the word out on the necessity for Family Court reform. Connecticut parents and children are not the only ones who suffer from a chronically arbitrary system of unregulated decision making. This is a nationwide problem which deserves much more media attention. Scandinavian countries have successfully de-incentivised the pre-during-post divorce process. Journalists like you are on the front line of information dissemination about this very subject which directly affects millions of Americans within its 50 billion/year industry. That is a shameful number. We need to do better. We can do better. We must do better. We owe it to our law abiding parents. We owe it to our children. We owe it to our society as a whole.

  • Sheila Mannix

    Help please: If anyone has had Dr. Steven Bittner, MD, of
    Norwalk, CT as a custody evaluator or otherwise involved in your court case,
    please contact me: Dr. Sheila Mannix, PhD, Co-Founder, Illinois Family Court Accountability
    Advocates, sheilamannix@yahoo.com.
    Thank you to Anne Stevenson and the citizens of CT for the great work you are
    accomplishing to expose the use of the nation’s judicial system as a “profit
    center” by dishonest public officials and court actors who utilize our children
    and elders as “commodities” therein. Onward for the children!

  • UtahnsWakeUp

    To the reporter — thank you! If you want to see a presentation that was given to Utah State Auditor John Dougall last year to show how to find the federal dollars fueling the child trafficking, I can get it to you. Email me at: now.2007@hotmail. Then you can publish it. We are pushing for jury trials in Utah for children. This is organized crime!!

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