Lustgarten has admitted to filing bankruptcy and losing a house to foreclosure in the 1990s, though she told the Modesto Bee on Sunday, Jan. 6, that she wrongly wrote on the Bee’s pre-election questionnaire by writing that she had not been a party to bankruptcy.
Lustgarten told the Irrigator on Tuesday, Jan. 8, that she answered “no” because she thought the 10-year legal limit for financial records of bankruptcies and seven-year legal limit for financial records of foreclosures had been reached.
The recently elected councilwoman said she filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 1994 with her former husband over medical bills and filed under Chapter 13 in 1999. The family lost its house in 1998 due to financial woes, she said.
She also said her ex-husband forged her name in attempts to file bankruptcy in 1996 and 1998, efforts that were thrown out of court by a judge.
At the time, he was abusing her physically, emotionally and financially, Lustgarten said.
She said in one instance, she was punched in the face, knocked out cold and needed 27 stitches to close a cut. Pictures taken after another attack show massive bruises on her arms from covering her face during repeated blows.
But opponents — including Annette Smith, a former councilwoman who lost her re-election bid in November — are not letting up. Smith said someone seeking public office should have been more forthcoming.
“She didn’t give the electorate the opportunity to make a decision on who should be in charge of a $40 million budget,” Smith said. “She knew she was going to lie. She knows it’s relevant information. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have lied.”
Instead, Smith said Lustgarten could have refused to answer the question.
Dennis McCord, who lost by eight votes to Lustgarten in November, also said it was inappropriate for Lustgarten to lie to the media and public.
“I do want honesty and trustworthiness in my elected officials,” McCord said. “No person should endure what happened to Sheree. Does that give you an excuse to lie? Absolutely not.”
Lustgarten said she never wanted her bid for a council seat to focus on personal trouble that ended more than a decade years ago.
“I didn’t campaign on that. I didn’t make it about my life or what I went through,” she said. “I campaigned on the issues and what we needed as a city, and that’s what I won on.”
Lustgarten said, though, that her escape from the ordeal could provide hope for others facing similar situations.
“I’ve gotten calls from women who’ve said it has helped them,” she said.
She said her experience allows her to understand and perhaps help those who are caught in a cycle of abuse and who have lost their homes.
“It gives me a better perspective in a variety of different issues,” she said.
McCord agreed that some benefits may result from the disclosure of Lustgarten’s abusive past, but he maintained that does not excuse her concealment of financial problems.
“There’s a lot of good that can come out of this,” he said. “It could empower others to get out of their bad situation, too. Unfortunately, there was a lie before the truth came out.”
• Contact Nick Rappley at 892-6187, ext. 31, or firstname.lastname@example.org.