DeSillers Spared Jail Term for Contempt
Aug. 26, 1988
MIAMI (AP) _ Maria DeSillers need not give up financial records of donations for her dying son's liver transplants, a judge ruled Thursday, dismissing contempt motions that could have landed her in jail.
Forcing Ms. DeSillers to give the records and items allegedly bought with some of the $690,000 in donations to the court-appointed curator of her son Ronnie's estate ''would tend to incriminate her,'' said Dade County Probate Judge Francis Christie.
''I'm very happy,'' said Ms. DeSillers, who while awaiting the ruling gave her age as ''33, the same as Christ when he was crucified.''
During the two-day contempt hearing, her attorney, Roy Black, argued that Ms. DeSillers had a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because prosecutors in Dade and Broward counties are investigating her for possible criminal violations.
Lawyers for curator Karen Gievers had no immediate comment on the ruling, but later received an emergency hearing Friday before Christie on their request to seize disputed properties and to strike Ms. DeSillers' $150,000 claim on her son's estate, said another of Ms. DeSillers' lawyers, Frank Johnson.
Ms. DeSillers received massive publicity last year after the theft of $4,000 that her 7-year-old son's classmates had raised for the boy's liver transplant.
Donations poured in, including $1,000 from President Reagan and $200,000 from Miami Beach industrialist Victor Posner. Ronnie died in April 1987 while awaiting a fourth transplant at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Ms. DeSillers' handling of the money came under question when the hospital sued for the $262,000 balance of the boy's bill. She refuses to pay, claiming Ronnie received improper care, a charge the hospital vehemently denies.
Shortly before the ruling Thursday, Ms. DeSillers' former fiance, Jose Castillo, was handcuffed and whisked away as he stepped out of the courtroom where he been accompanying Ms. DeSillers.
Metro-Dade Detective Barry Garafola said Castillo pawned two IBM computers, monitors and printers worth $4,000. One of the computer sets had been stolen in March, and the other has not been traced, the detective said.
As he was led away, Castillo called the charge ''ridiculous.'' His bail was set at $1,000 per count on a charge of grand theft and another of dealing in stolen property.
Detectives said they could not say if Ms. DeSillers was involved. Ms. DeSillers was ''devastated'' by the arrest, said Johnson.
Ms. Gievers, a lawyer, was appointed by the court in March to oversee Ronnie's estate after the charges arose that the money might have been misspent by Ms. DeSillers.
Ms. Gievers said Ms. DeSillers apparently spent some $200,000 of donations improperly, including $13,500 for a used BMW and $11,000 for jewelry. The curator had sought the records to confirm her findings.
Christie froze the estate assets, which are to be used for outstanding bills or to help other needy, sick children.He also repeatedly ordered Ms. DeSillers to give up financial records and to hand over purchases allegedly made with the donations.
When she refused, Ms. Gievers sought the contempt of court citations, punishable by fines or jail time. Christie declined to elaborate on his brief order Thursday rejecting that request.
Black portrayed his client as an unfairly maligned and generous woman who handled the publicity, money and her only child's death as best she could. He also said that some of the donations were meant for Ms. DeSillers' personal use.
''I'm not saying people gave it for Maria to buy jewelry. (But) if she bought a pickup truck for $20,000, which is what they cost today, nobody would have criticized her,'' he told the judge.
''You'd think this was 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.' This is not a woman who deserves to be humiliated,'' Black said.