Lawyer Freed After Longest-Ever Term for Contempt

Attorney Beatty Chadwick went to jail after failing to produce money in divorce.

July 16, 2009, 1:47 PM

July 17, 2009 -- A 73-year-old Philadelphia lawyer walked out of prison July 10 after serving 14 years for contempt of court -- the longest term ever served for contempt.

In a divorce proceeding in 1995 H. Beatty Chadwick said that he had lost his fortune of about $2.75 million and so could not make a significant financial settlement with soon-to-be ex-wife Bobbie.

At the time, the court professed its skepticism of Chadwick's claim of pauperage and ordered him to produce his money. He claimed the money had been lost and he was sent to jail.

"If I had been convicted of murder in the third degree in Pennsylvania, I would have been out in half the time I was in jail," Chadwick said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press after his release. "I have to spend a little time thinking about ... seeing how I can best use my skills and talents."

In 2005, Bobbie Chadwick said she had no reason to see her ex-husband remain in jail. She says she has wished "he would come to his senses and realize, 'OK, life is short, this is crazy.'"

But Beatty Chadwick, who worked as the top lawyer for an international corporation in Philadelphia, told "Primetime Live" correspondent Jim Avila in 2005 that he is not keeping anything from his wife.

"I don't control the cash," he said. "They haven't been able to establish that, despite the fact that they have run up a large bill in the process."

Chadwick's request for freedom was granted by Delaware County Judge Joseph Cronin, who determined his continued incarceration had lost its coercive effect and would not result in him turning over the money, according to the AP.

In court documents ordering the release, Cronin said he agreed with previous court rulings that Chadwick "had the ability to comply with the court order ... but that he had willfully refused to do so."

But Chadwick's continued imprisonment would be legal only if it were likely that he would ultimately comply with the order. The judge said there was little chance of that, and Chadwick should be released.

How did the divorce case get so ugly? Bobbie was Chadwick's second wife -- 18 years his junior. She says theirs was once a lifestyle of luxurious homes, manicured lawns, 5 o'clock cocktail hours, full-course dinners by candlelight and classical music.

But Bobbie said her ex-husband was also powerfully controlling. Despite all their wealth, she says she was given a relatively small household budget of $600 a month.

She was expected to clean out the mansion's elegant pool, mow the three-and-a-half acres of lawn and cook those elaborate candlelit dinners -- alone, with no household help.

"I ended up making all my clothing. I lived what looked like an opulent life, but I did it on a very tiny little budget," she said.

Chadwick's Claim: 'Not Credible'

Bobbie says sex was even on a strict schedule: Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7:30, no variations.

She says the final straw was the day Beatty demanded she ration her use of toilet paper -- just six sheets per bathroom visit.

Beatty said "the divorce was her idea and was a complete shock to me."

After 20 years of marriage, Bobbie packed two trash bags of clothes and left him without notice. She left her "life of luxury" for low-paying jobs, such as making sandwiches at a deli, baby-sitting and cleaning houses.

Bobbie said Beatty gave her one last chance to come back. She said she laughed and refused.

At the very first divorce hearing to set alimony, Bobbie said Beatty told the court he had some bad news. He had given a real estate venture $5,000 and agreed that they could come to him for additional funds -- up to $2.75 million if they got in trouble.

It was at the time of the divorce that he says the company came to him demanding that $2.75 million -- a figure equivalent to the family fortune.

"No one could believe that he was standing there saying this and expecting everyone to believe it," Bobbie said. "It's exactly the same as our net worth. That's what was so ludicrous."

The judge in the case called the story of where the money went a "fraud" that was "not credible or worthy of belief."

Bobbie said her ex-husband was a conservative investor. "He had all blue chip stocks. This was not something he would do."

Bobbie's Philadelphia lawyers tracked some of the money down around the world, and the trail led right back to Chadwick himself.

Documents show that after Beatty sent his life savings overseas to the Maison Blanche company of Gibraltar, it sent nearly a million of it back into three investment accounts, all in Beatty Chatwick's name.

Months later, the accounts were closed, and the checks were sent to a post office box in central Pennsylvania. Beatty says the checks were in his name, but he was just holding the money for the European firm.

Chadwick's Wife Built New Life

He also says has no idea why the money was sent to a small town in Pennsylvania, so close to where he lives.

Even when "Primetime" showed him an authorization letter bearing his signature that closed the accounts and cashed the checks, Beatty denied signing the letter.

A bank officer even testified that he saw Beatty sign the letter and pointed him out in a courtroom. But Beatty insisted, "I didn't sign that letter."

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking as Beatty Chadwick's health deteriorated. He has been treated for non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, which could recur at any time. "Here he is, 10 years, he knows he's not well," Bobbie told "Primetime."

"And he's willing to just waste the rest of his life, a good chunk of his life. He's 68 years old. Ten years. He'll never get it back."

Bobbie -- who is now a landscape painter living a simpler life on the rocky coast of Maine -- recently reached the point where she can earn a living selling her art. She's hoping, but not counting on, ever getting a big payday.

Asked if she thought she would ever get the money, Bobbie replied: "I have spent the last 12 years building a life not depending on ever seeing a cent."

When "Primetime" interviewed Chadwick four years ago, he had finally started to cooperate with the court. So the judge was able to hire forensic accountants to try and track down the money. By that point, however, the trail had run cold and no new leads turned up. The accountant's task was also hampered at the time by Chadwick's refusal to sign authorizations that would have allowed for a more thorough search.

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