PATTERSON — Omissions relating to Sheree Lustgarten's personal financial history during a hard-fought campaign last fall could cause trouble for the new city councilwoman.
Critics intend to demand her resignation at an upcoming council meeting, said two unsuccessful candidates in the November race.
"I'm real disappointed that Sheree chose to lie," said Dennis McCord, who was not elected after lengthy ballot processing showed him eight votes shy of Lustgarten.
"I do think if citizens had known about the multiple bankruptcies in her history, at least a few probably would have rethought voting for her," McCord said.
Lustgarten blames an abusive, controlling ex-husband for 1990s bankruptcies and foreclosures in Southern California, mostly in Riverside County. She shared files of documents and photographs and said she hopes others can learn from her misfortune.
"When an abuser is doing crazy things, you get it on your record, too," she said.
Four bankruptcy filings
Using a different name while married before, Lustgarten and her then-husband filed for bankruptcy four times and lost two homes to foreclosure, real estate and court records show. He acted without her knowledge in 1996 and 1997 petitions, she said, both of which were rejected.
Their debts had been eliminated in a 1994 filing under Chapter 7 liquidation. They sought bankruptcy protection in 1999 under Chapter 13, which allows time to pay creditors, and Lustgarten said she made good on repayment terms with little help from her husband, whom she divorced in 2003.
"The stuff he did, I don't personally feel responsible for," Lustgarten said. "But because I was married to him, it's going to be out there."
Lustgarten returned a Bee questionnaire, requested of all candidates, on Oct. 4, answering "no" to each of the following questions:
Have you or a business you owned or had principal interest in ever filed bankruptcy? Have you ever defaulted on a home loan or lost a property to foreclosure?
Confronted after the election, Lustgarten noted that credit bureaus continue to list bankruptcies for 10 years after debts are discharged. Foreclosures normally stay on for seven years.
"I figured it's been over 10 years so I didn't feel like I was lying," she said. "What does a '94 bankruptcy have to do with me being a council member in 2012?"
Fellow candidates unhappy
McCord and former Councilwoman Annette Smith, who also lost Nov. 6, said they and others will express disdain at the next council meeting, scheduled for Jan. 15.
Lustgarten and her husband, Jeff, unsuccessfully demanded Smith's resignation at public meetings when she drew scorn from civil grand jurors two years ago, Smith said.
McCord questioned whether voters knowingly would "put someone in charge of a $40 million budget who has trouble managing her own money."
A review of some local races in recent years suggest mixed results for candidates with checkered financial pasts.
Modesto Councilman Dave Lopez's 1993 bankruptcy was mentioned in four campaigns before he won office in 2007. He answered "no" to the bankruptcy question while running for re-election in 2011, later said he misread the form and won a second term.
Investment property owned by a challenger in that 2011 race, Todd Aaronson, fell into foreclosure during the campaign. George Sharp, who went through a bankruptcy nine years before running for the Modesto council in 2005, was not elected, while Denny Jackman won a Modesto council seat in 2001 after a 1995 Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
In Riverbank, 2012 candidates Anthony McKinney and Leanne Jones Cruz had bankruptcy records; neither was elected.
McCord said voters should weigh whether financial problems are important, but can't if problems are concealed.
"Honesty is a big deal," he said. "If you can't be honest, you can't govern. People are fine with making mistakes, but you have to be honest about it."