Fisher Island man jailed for marrying off teen son during divorce proceedings

The court ordered Dan Rotta to take his 16-year-old to a Utah boarding school, but instead he took him to Vegas for a wedding — freeing him of judicial oversight.

07/11/2012 12:00 AM

07/12/2012 2:34 PM

Fisher Island millionaire Dan Rotta must serve 180 days in jail — for allowing his 16-year-old son to get hitched in Las Vegas to his housekeeper’s daughter.

The charge: contempt of court, a Miami-Dade judge ruled. Rotta had been ordered by the court to take his son to a Utah boarding school, but instead the dad took him to Sin City for the marriage, which “emancipated” the troubled teen from the court’s oversight.

Dan Rotta’s “facilitating” of the shotgun wedding was “simply shocking” and “clearly intended to thwart” the court’s order to admit the teen into the Logan River Academy in Utah, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger wrote in Tuesday’s order.

Officers booked Rotta, 65, into Miami-Dade County Jail, where he remained late Wednesday.

Rotta’s attorney, Neal Lewis, said he “respectfully disagrees” with the judge’s ruling and is appealing the sentence to the Third District Court of Appeal.

The teen, now legally an adult because of the marriage, is living on his own at his father’s penthouse on the exclusive island enclave. Reached by phone, the teen declined to discuss the situation.

Asked if the wedding was a sham, he only replied: “It’s not. We’ve known each other for eight years.”

The saga stems from long-running legal disputes in the divorce proceedings between Rotta and ex-wife Renee Rotta of Aventura.

Rotta, a wealthy businessman, made his money as president of a New York City company that imported Seiko watches through the so-called “gray market,” which allows companies to buy brand-name products overseas and sell them in the U.S. at a discount.

He moved to his Fisher Island penthouse in 2001.

Court records paint a picture of the couple’s son as a highly intelligent but troubled young man who has attended several Florida boarding schools over the years. He was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, which leads him to lash out. Records show the son was arrested in 2010 after punching a police officer during a tantrum. The case was later dropped.

Two years ago, Renee Rotta asked the court to send her son to a “therapeutic” boarding school in Utah, which had been recommended by an educational expert. In November 2010, after protracted court hearings, then-Circuit Judge Kevin Emas ordered the teen to the academy in Logan, Utah.

According to a transcript, Emas urged Dan Rotta to take the teen to the school immediately. “All I know is that with each passing moment we lose or negate the probability” that the child will be saved, the judge said.

Emas added: “Look my primary and exclusive concern here is getting [the teen] to the boarding school. I’m not going to allow anything to prevent that from happening.”

The teen was due to report to the school in December 2010. But according to the court, one day after the son’s 16th birthday that month, Rotta took him to Las Vegas. With them: Diana Esperanza Mendoza Guzman, the family’s housekeeper’s 18-year-old Colombian-born daughter.

In Nevada, a minor only needs one parental signature to consent to an underage marriage. Although they share joint custody of their son, Rotta signed the consent for his son to marry Guzman without his ex-wife’s knowledge.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake, who took over briefly for Emas when the latter was appointed to the appeals court, called the marriage “kind of bizarre” when he learned about the wedding.

“And you gave him permission to be married?” Blake asked, according to a transcript of the hearing 12 days after the wedding.

“Well, I think that permission was his. I don’t how to answer the question,” Rotta replied cryptically.

An incredulous Blake replied: “In other words, a 16-year-old can decide, in today’s times, they can just go and get married and they don’t have to get permission of the parents?”

Rotta finally admitted he signed the consent.

“Is he on his honeymoon?” Blake asked Rotta.

“[He] is with me right now. He’s having breakfast,” Rotta replied. “His wife is in Miami.”

“Okay. Gee, it’s a shame they got married so quickly and had to be apart,” Blake deadpanned.

In a May contempt of court hearing, Rotta’s lawyers argued that the boarding school had already decided against admitting the teen because of the ongoing divorce litigation. The school, lawyers argued, was never even aware that the boy had gotten married.

Judge Schlesinger, who had taken over the case by this time, agreed that Rotta convinced the school to reject his son. But, had he not done so, the judge decided, Rotta likely would have used the marriage ‘trump card’ to keep his son from enrolling in the academy.

The boarding school does not accept married students.

Still, Schlesinger said, none of that excuses the father’s “contumacious” conduct.

He wrote in his final order: “It is hard for this court to imagine a bolder, more egregious example of indirect criminal contempt.”

Join the Discussion

Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service