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Court Tanks Millionaire Felon’s Adoption Scheme

(CN) - A polo tycoon cannot take the "reprehensible" action of adopting his middle-aged girlfriend to shield his fortune from the heirs of a man he killed while driving drunk, an appeals court ruled.

John Goodman, the 49-year-old multimillionaire founder of the International Polo Club Palm Beach in Wellington, Fla., is under house arrest as part of 16-year sentence for the death of 23-year-old engineering student Scott Wilson.

Goodman had been driving his Bentley drunk in February 2010 when he crashed into Wilson's Hyundai, sending the car into a canal where Wilson ultimately drowned.

In the civil suit that Wilson's parents filed three months later, they claimed that "Goodman made no effort whatsoever to come to the aid of Scott Wilson but instead fled the scene on foot."

Though he called 911, he also "sought to hide at nearby structures and ... make telephone calls to friends and lawyers to protect himself from prosecution, all the while knowing that the driver of the vehicle he had knocked into the ditch was seriously injured, submerged under water and most likely drowning," the complaint stated.

In apparent bid to preserve his fortune from the Wilsons, Goodman formally adopted his girlfriend, Heather Laruso Hutchins, in the fall of 2011 when Hutchins was 42. The couple had reportedly been dating since 2009.

Goodman's maneuver gave Hutchins one third of a $300 million trust fund that had been created for the two children he had with his ex-wife, Carroll Goodman.

After the trial court approved the adoption, Goodman gave Hutchins a $5 million testamentary power of appointment, another $3 million payable before the end of 2012, and $8.75 million in distributions over the course of her life.

Goodman also gave his business manager broad discretion to let Hutchins dip into trust funds as she pleased.

In March 2012, a Florida jury convicted Goodman of driving under the influence, failure to render aid and vehicular homicide.

Meanwhile a guardian for the Goodman children teamed up with their mother, whose name appears in court documents as Carroll and Isla Reckling Goodman, challenged the adoption of Hutchins in Miami-Dade County Court.

A judge had refused to let the family intervene in the adult adoption, but the Third District Court of Appeal reversed Wednesday.

John Goodman's "deliberate failure" to notify his ex-wife of the adoption "constituted a fraud on the court," Judge Ivan Fernandez wrote for a three-member panel.

Goodman waited until early 2012, after the appeals period had expired, to inform Carroll and the Wilson family of the adoption, according to the ruling

"The guardian and Carroll correctly pointed out that this lack of notice violated the minor children's due process rights," Fernandez wrote. "We reiterate that Hutchins' adoption directly, immediately, and financially impacted the children. Goodman's concealment of the adoption proceeding deprived the children of an opportunity to address the trial court and present their objections."

Carroll had a right to intervene "on behalf of her minor children, to assert and protect her children's legal rights," the judges added.

"In Florida, parents are the natural guardians of their minor children and, upon divorce, if the parents are given joint custody, they continue as the natural guardians," according to the ruling.

In a concurring opinion that called Goodman's action "reprehensible," Senior Judge Alan Schwartz said "the adoption of a paramour is so contrary to the beneficent purposes of such an action that no such judgment can ever be sustained."

Judge Vance Salter joined the unanimous decision.

ABC News reported last year that Goodman agreed to pay $45 million to Wilson's parents.

Goodman's house arrest is protected by a $7 million bond, the Sun Sentinel reported.

His father reportedly made millions in the air conditioning manufacturing business.

The Palm Beach Post reported that Goodman has his hopes pinned on overturning his conviction based on the alleged failure of a juror to disclose information that would have changed the course of the trial.

The juror, Dennis DeMartin, wrote in a book how his ex-wife was arrested on a DUI charge, entered a treatment program and began an affair that allegedly ended their marriage, according to filings from Goodman's counsel.

Goodman hopes that information, along with an alleged confession of a "drinking experiment" in a previous memoir, will be enough for a judge to order a new trial, the Palm Beach Post reported.

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