Shenkman found in contempt of divorce orders

The very thing that Richard J. Shenkman said he feared on the day he allegedly kidnapped his ex-wife at gunpoint and held her hostage in his South Windsor home has happened.

A Hartford judge has found Shenkman in contempt for failing to comply with court orders in his divorce case. Judge Jack W. Fischer has ordered Shenkman to pay $179,942 to Nancy J. Tyler within 30 days and, if he fails to do so, to be held in custody until he complies. Interest on the amount will begin accruing at the rate of 8 percent per year.

The contempt orders may seem moot, since Shenkman is being held without bond and faces major criminal charges, including kidnapping, attempted murder and arson.

"There's a question of being able to recover it (the money)," said Michael G. Rigg, Tyler's attorney. "But the first step has to be a court order, and we've got that."

Shenkman's attorney, Hugh F. Keefe, did not return a phone call inquiring about the decision.

Following three years of bitter divorce proceedings, Shenkman, 60, allegedly kidnapped Tyler at gunpoint on July 7, the day he was supposed to turn over to her his South Windsor house. Shenkman and Tyler were due in court for a compliance hearing that day in family court, and Shenkman said in a phone interview during the hostage ordeal that he feared the judge was going to incarcerate him on contempt charges.

Shenkman had appealed the July 2, 2008, divorce decree to the state Appellate Court, which affirmed Judge Jorge A. Simon's ruling. Shenkman then appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has refused to hear the case.

The divorce has left Tyler with two properties that her husband allegedly torched: the South Windsor home, which burned to the ground after she escaped on July 7, and a Niantic home that Shenkman is accused of setting on fire on March 5, 2007.

Tyler has been unable to rebuild the Niantic house because of Shenkman's claim in a separate civil lawsuit that he is entitled to half the proceeds from the homeowner's insurance.

Tyler learned after the hostage ordeal that Shenkman had let lapse the homeowner's insurance on the South Windsor property, and she was forced to pay $25,000 out of pocket for the site cleanup.

Shenkman is being held without bail at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution in Suffield.

In the contempt decision, Judge Fischer wrote that Shenkman, who is capable of earning $75,000 a year and has other assets, including two warehouses containing business equipment, "has the ability to pay" the money he owes Tyler.

In the 13-page contempt decision, Judge Fischer describes Shenkman's conduct as "abusive, defiant and contemptuous" throughout the divorce proceedings. He wrote that Tyler, who has been the target of "horrific abuse by the defendant, is found by the court to be intelligent, strong, resourceful and credible."

Fischer did not rule on the Niantic insurance case, but wrote that he was "taking judicial notice." In those cases, Tyler has asked the court to dismiss Shenkman's claim that he is entitled to a portion of the insurance proceeds because the divorce decree grants Tyler "sole title and ownership" of the property along with any and all proceeds from the pending fire insurance loss claim. Attorneys attended a status hearing in the case last week, and oral arguments are scheduled for Nov. 16.

k.florin@theday.com

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