Stealing from the Elderly
Judge Martin Colin is married to guardian Elizabeth Savitt. She manages the lives of seniors who can’t take care of themselves. With her career choice comes complications … and accusations – her husband’s influence over her lawyers; another judge, his daily lunch companion, approving her fees; and her taking money from the seniors before any judge approves it.
Foreclosures, liens and unpaid debts. These dominate the financial record of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Martin Colin and his wife, Elizabeth Savitt, a professional guardian. The couple have enormous power over the life saving of seniors no longer competent to care for themselves because of dementia or medical illness.
The pair’s financial difficulties peaked in the Great Recession. Then in 2011, Savitt became a paid professional guardian and much of their financial distress dissipated, including when Savitt paid off a $308,000 foreclosure on a Delray Beach house that was set to be auctioned off in March.
So where has all the money gone?
Colin earns a $146,000 annual salary as a circuit judge. Savitt was previously a tennis pro and a 2007 affidavit from a post-divorce proceeding show assets as high as $1.27 million.
Despite this, Colin’s financial records show he has repeatedly borrowed money from clients from his days as a divorce attorney.
One of these clients was Helen Rich, an heiress to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune. In May 2006, Colin borrowed $85,000 from Rich, then a Palm Beach resident who Colin had represented in a divorce when she was known as Helen Rosburg. Colin paid back that loan.
Two years later, she said, Colin asked to borrow another $20,000, explaining that Savitt, whom he had just married, had cancer and he needed money for her treatment. Rich was a former cancer survivor. Colin’s first wife, Ellen, died of leukemia.
Rich and Colin modified the $20,000 loan in 2013 to include interest. According to his latest financial disclosure with the state’s Commission on Ethics, Colin still owes Rich about $30,000.
Neither Savitt nor Colin responded to questions about their finances.
Savitt and Colin live in a home he owns in Atlantis, a golf course community. He also owned a West Palm Beach condominium sold in October and co-owns a condominium with his son in King’s Point west of Delray Beach. Savitt still owns the home from her previous marriage in Delray Beach and another West Palm Beach condominium.
Lenders and a homeowners association have sued for foreclosure on four of the five properties, with the exception of Savitt’s condo, since 2008.
The lender on the Atlantis home sued for foreclosure in 2009, but Colin told The Post at that time that it wasn’t a foreclosure, despite court filings that said it was.
“I modified my mortgage, but it’s not in foreclosure,” he said. But the modification didn’t happen until three years later by Ocwen Financial Corp. through a government program of loan modifications to help homeowners avoid losing their homes.
Colin had about $67,000 in liens from the Internal Revenue Service for back taxes from 2001 and 2005. He satisfied the IRS liens in 2012 and 2014.
The judge also has borrowed at least $200,000 in the past decade from former clients.
In 2010, the year before Savitt became a registered professional guardian, the couple were delinquent on about $9,000 in property taxes, county tax records show.
Besides the Rich loan, Colin hasn’t paid off loans from Atlantis oncologist Dr. Surendra Sirpal, who was once a client. He borrowed $35,000 from the doctor in 2007 and still owes him $60,000, his latest financial disclosure shows. Sirpal said Colin was his neighbor and he loaned him some money for the judge’s real estate investments.
Colin — elected to the bench in 2004 and re-elected in 2010 — has been delinquent on dues to homeowner associations and fines from code enforcement. The boards have slapped liens on his properties.
Since 2006 in his financial disclosures, Colin estimated the value of his Atlantis home between $650,000 and $700,000. The real estate website Zillow estimated the value at a high of $472,000 in 2014 and a low of $317,000 in 2011. The county assessed the market value of the property at $305,000 in 2015.
The disclosures are signed under oath “that the information disclosed on this form is true, accurate, and complete.”
Savitt had a judgment of foreclosure on her home in Delray Beach in 2010, but the bank backed off. Another judgment was filed in November 2014 that sent a house to the auction block.
In 2011, she told the Department of Elder Affairs when she was registering to be a guardian that the foreclosure matter involved a dispute with the lender over a home equity loan and was not due to “an oversight or neglect.”
But court records show that she racked up late charges and interest and made only a handful of payments for six years. Her claim that Citibank violated the Truth In Lending Act fell apart.
During at least part of that time, she rented the house to tenants.
Conflicts of Interest
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Martin Colin is no stranger to accusations of conflict of interest or controversy in his decade on the bench. The state Judicial Qualifications Commission received complaints about Colin in 2008, claiming he was favoring divorce attorneys from the powerhouse law firm of Weiss Handler Angelos & Cornwell, who represented Elizabeth Savitt. She and Colin were married in 2008.
The judge, first elected in 2004, was transferred around 2009 from the family to the probate and division, where Savitt became a professional guardian for incapacitated adults two years later. Her entry into the lucrative world of professional guardians created a whole new set of potential conflicts.
In 2008, the judge picked a fight with former mobster Lewis Kasman.
Colin jailed Kasman, the adopted son of Mafia boss John Gotti Sr., for about a week in February 2008 for failure to pay his ex-wife child support. It was later determined the judge acted without a proper order in jailing Kasman, who claimed it was done as a favor for his wife’s attorney, Carol Kartagener from Weiss Handler.
Kasman and two other men in cases in front of Colin filed complaints with the JQC that the judge favored attorneys who had represented Savitt, including those at Weiss Handler.
The JQC in March 2011 informed Kasman that it had considered his complaints “and has taken appropriate action on the same.”
In a paternity case in 2007 involving one of Savitt’s divorce attorneys, the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered Colin off the case and told him that disclosing his conflict with the attorneys on the other side “would have been prudent.” Savitt was the judge’s girlfriend at the time, but the court found no difference between a wife and a girlfriend, saying there was still an “appearance of bias or prejudice.”
In May 2008, Colin produced a letter instructing four attorneys — Henry Handler, Jonathan Root, John F. Schutz and Christopher Jette — to disclose the conflict, again putting the onus on the lawyers.
Controversy has followed Colin and Savitt since they started dating during Colin’s days as her divorce attorney. In 2001, Colin moved into Savitt’s Delray Beach home while he was representing her in her divorce.
The ex-husband, former restaurateur Jay Gordon, filed a complaint against Colin with the Florida Bar, but the matter was dropped in 2004 when Colin became a judge because the Bar doesn’t handle complaints about judges.
Child custody issues were argued in front of Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath. At a 2004 hearing where Colin served as the main witness and Savitt’s attorney Root acted as prosecutor, Colbath sentenced Gordon to 30 days in jail for violating a restraining order to avoid contact with his ex-wife. The conviction was overturned on appeal.
“There is a great difference between an ‘appointed’ prosecutor who develops facts to support a finding and one who misuses the appointment for injustice and oppression. The record in this case contains facts which support the latter conclusion,” the 4th DCA wrote in a 2007 opinion.
Colbath would eventually state that Colin sought to use the court system to “bully and intimidate” Gordon.
“As a result of this relationship with Ms. Savitt, Mr. Colin may have lost his objectivity and is not problem solving but is exacerbating the post-judgment conflicts between these parties,” Colbath wrote.
Colin asked for Judge Colbath’s remarks to be stricken from the record. Colbath refused.
Colbath is now chief judge of Palm Beach County.
Colin made headlines again in 2005 when he was investigated on allegations of battery on a child, accused of holding his future stepson underwater in a pool after the 12-year-old sassed him. Although Delray Beach police filed a probable cause affidavit, neither Palm Beach nor Broward prosecutors filed charges. The judge remained on the bench during the investigation.
In 2006, attorney Bill Abramson made public Colin’s driving record. The judge had averaged a speeding ticket every 18 months since 1994. Colin had failed to turn in his not guilty plea and paperwork, which caused his driver’s license to be suspended for two weeks.
Three years later, the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office asked Colin and Savitt why they were both claiming a $50,000 homestead exemption on their Atlantis and Delray Beach homes. The issue was complicated by a foreclosure proceeding on Colin’s home.
The probate judge, who presides over financial matters, said the couple were living at both homes at the time and said he didn’t know claiming homestead on both residences was prohibited.