Despite History of Crack Abuse, Man From Ultra-Rich Lauderdale Family Wins Custody of 2-Year-Old | The Daily Pulp | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Despite History of Crack Abuse, Man From Ultra-Rich Lauderdale Family Wins Custody of 2-Year-Old

Wesley Hutchings enjoys the kinds of privileges that come with being born to a family made rich by the American automotive industry. His father, James "Jack" Hutchings made hundreds of millions though the manufacture of air-conditioning units for cars. The Hutchings family's 20,000-square-foot home spreads across two huge lots at a Las Olas Isles point, surrounded on three sides by the Intracoastal Waterway. "La Maison Blanche," as it's locally known, is listed by this realtor for $28.5 million.

But Wes Hutchings has a legal history that's decidedly ghetto -- multiple DUIs and a 2004 arrest for cocaine possession after he was found running crazily through the halls of a Seminole County hotel, high on crack and threatening to kill himself.

In that case, Hutchings entered a guilty plea to cocaine possession, but adjudication was withheld. There are no signs of a more recent encounter with hardcore drugs. But the question is whether a Broward County judge was right to entrust a 2-year-old child to Hutchings' custody, rather than to the child's mother, who doesn't have Hutchings' checkered legal history.

In December 2004 -- three months after Wes Hutchings' crack-induced meltdown in a Seminole County hotel -- he met Lisa Kreiss in Beverly Hills. Their date had been brokered through a very exclusive, very expensive dating service. Even if she did trust that service to do background checks on its clients, Kreiss -- who was in the midst of a nasty divorce -- trusted her therapist's assessment of Hutchings. Having got the green light, she and Hutchings became engaged and in 2006 she had a baby daughter.

"I had just gone through a brutal, multi-million dollar divorce," she says. "And I thought, 'Now I've met Prince Charming.'" Wes would help pay the expense of her divorce. They took trips in the family's private jet. Wes' parents bought the couple a home near the fourth hole of Parkland Golf and County Club. Lisa, who legally changed her last name to Hutchings in advance of the wedding, was ready to live happily ever after.

But it didn't work out that way. Lisa claims she only learned of Wes' history with drugs after she had made a commitment to him. She became fearful he would harm their daughter.

Wes' lawyer, Matt Miller of Hollywood, claims that Lisa is "a very disturbed woman" and points to psychological evaluations that note a history of psychiatric symptoms, psychotropic medications and multiple suicide attempts.

Those incidents, says Lisa, came under the stress of her divorce and the protracted custody battle for the son from her previous marriage.

After the couple broke up in 2008, Wes allowed Lisa to take their daughter back to California in exchange for her signing a parenting agreement. It called for her to receive financial support, while Wes was to be given regular opportunities to speak with his daughter. Both sides say that the other breached the parenting agreement.

In such contests, the tie tends to go to the party who has a more convincing lawyer. Wes had Miller. Lisa couldn't afford one, so she represented herself. Broward Circuit Court Judge Arthur M. Birken ruled that Lisa had violated the terms of the parenting agreement.

He also ruled that Dr. Efrain Gonzalez, a Miami psychologist paid by Wes' side to evaluate both parents, and who found mental health problems that could make Lisa unfit to be a mother, gave a more credible report than the Los Angeles psychologist who evaluated Lisa and found "no firm evidence of diagnostic condition."

On July 22, Birken awarded sole custody of the child to Wes. Lisa says that she was denied the opportunity to see her when she last visited, in mid-September. (Miller says that it was Lisa's fault for failing to schedule a visitation so that Wes could make arrangements for a social worker to monitor that visit.)

The child will have her third birthday on Thursday. Lisa, who lives in Los Angeles, hasn't seen her daughter since June 1. She still hopes to contest Birken's ruling.

In the meantime, however, she will not be able to talk to her daughter. In a letter in late August, Wes told Lisa that the child was showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and that she feared her mother. For those reasons, he's cut off phone communication.

As for Wes' drug issues, Miller says: "Nobody ever said in court that Mr. Hutchings was perfect. He has owned up to his past problems. Lisa Hutchings, on the other hand, is in total denial."

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Thomas Francis

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