It's not every day that a global manufacturer of household cleaning supplies intervenes in a Madison County divorce.
But in this case, SC Johnson & Son, Inc. of Racine, Wisc. claims a divorce petition filed by Sara Buske against Thomas Buske, both of Edwardsville, is a sham.
"The question is, is this a real divorce or an attempt to shift assets to Mrs. Buske," said SC Johnson attorney Andrew Velloff of Alton during a hearing Friday in the Buskes' divorce proceeding.
Thomas Buske, owner of Edwardsville trucking brokerage company Buske Intermodal, was indicted March 10 in the Eastern District of Wisconsin on 23 counts of defrauding SC Johnson of $15 million through false and inflated invoices between 1999 and 2004.
"Buske Intermodal existed primarily to invoice SCJ falsely and fraudulently for transportation services, and thus to steal from SCJ," the indictment states.
Buske has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has been released on his own recognizance pending trial set for June 25. The charges against him carry a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines, according to court documents.
In addition to criminal charges, a court in Racine, Wisc. on June 2, 2008, entered a $203 million judgment in favor of SC Johnson over a trucking kickback and bribery scheme involving Thomas Buske.
Eight days after the Wisconsin judgment, Sara Buske filed for divorce in Madison County on June 10, 2008.
"Yet before and after this divorce filing, made years after SC Johnson publicly sued Buske for these activities and months after the actual jury verdict, the Buskes have not only acted as a married couple by living, vacationing and lavishly spending together, but they have actively colluded in the sham divorce action by seeking 'agreed' orders on false pretenses," Velloff states in court records.
In court on March 27, Thomas Keefe, Jr. of Belleville, also on behalf of SC Johnson, said that one of the agreed orders between the Buskes is a $20,000 per month maintenance and child support payment made by Thomas Buske to Sara Buske. Keefe said that Thomas Buske claims to earn $180,000 per year.
After SC Johnson, as intervenor, argued for more discovery of the Buskes' marital assets, Madison County Associate Judge Duane Bailey unsealed a financial information affidavit filed under seal by lawyers for Sara Buske. Bailey said he would rule at a later hearing whether SC Johnson can take discovery on whether the divorce is a fraud.
SC Johnson claims it wants to depose Sara Buske to look into whether she and her husband had discussions about keeping assets out of SC Johnson's reach.
"We need to be able to take her deposition," Velloff said. "Maybe there is no fraud here. On the other hand, we may discover there is a fraud."
Lawyers for the Buskes object to SC Johnson's intervention in the divorce. Among other things, they argue that it has driven up legal fees.
A lawyer for Tom Buske said she found it "repugnant" that SC Johnson wanted discovery on the nature of the Buskes' marital relationship.
"I am not aware of any case law" that allows a third party to make an inquiry into a divorce on a question of fraud, said Vickie Cochran of St. Louis.
According to the indictment against Thomas Buske, if convicted, he stands to lose property at 22 Greystone Ln. and 20 Eagle Ct. in Edwardsville, 7 Gateway Commerce Center and 29 Gateway Commerce Center in Granite City; as well as property in Napa, Calif., Indianapolis, Houston, Fort Smith, Ark, Brownstown, Mich. and Hazelwood, Mo.
He could forfeit a 2007 Mercedes Benz, four BMW vehicles, a Land Rover, Jeep Wrangler Sahara, Ford 500 SEL and a 37.75-foot Sea Ray boat.
He could forfeit cash and financial assets in 12 separate accounts that total at least $6.6 million.