- By John Pacenti Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
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.