Young Loves

Tom Zaratti was just a lawyer of modest means, looking out for his boy. Then the revelations began.

That prompted another hearing in the custody case, this one requested by not Zaratti but his ex-wife. Susan's attorney, Daniel Hoke of Richmond, pressed him about the cash: Where did it come from?

The attorney invoked his Fifth Amendment right against incriminating himself. That answer was repeated on questions about his allegedly showing his "client" the child porn with his son in the same room.

For months, Zaratti had continued regular visitations after the first child porn arrest, without even telling his ex about the charge. Hoke asked him if his wife didn't deserve to know. Zaratti replied that he didn't have any reason to tell her.

Susan Zaratti found her ex-husband, Tom, in jail on child pornography charges.
Harris County Sheriff's Department
Susan Zaratti found her ex-husband, Tom, in jail on child pornography charges.

"Our position is that he is underpaying dramatically," Hoke says. "I think his income is a lot more than what he's led the court to believe." Hoke thinks some of the loot from the safe -- the guns and jewelry -- may have been nothing more than payment Zaratti took for some earlier cases.

State District Judge Robert Kern granted a motion to require Zaratti's visitations to be supervised under a special Fort Bend County sheriff's program. "At least it will be in a protected environment," Hoke explains. "Whatever he would say or do, or take off with the child, she would have some protection against that."

His other worry is the future of support for the boy if the charges against his father lead to prison time. "I assume the IRS would be interested in how a guy who makes about $35,000 a year, according to his own testimony, has over $220,000 in cash sitting in a safe in his house. There's going to be a lot of people, eventually, trying to get their hands on this money. My concern is that if he does go to prison, that the funds will go to the benefit of his child."

While the district attorney's office can seize cash found to be gained illegally, the money and items in the safe were recently returned to Zaratti. Ted Wilson, the chief of the D.A.'s Special Crimes Bureau, explains the problems: The discovery of the floor safe was considered to be outside the permitted scope of the first warrant, which authorized the search for only the computer. The second warrant for the contents of the safe was therefore determined to be flawed.

Zaratti is believed to have used the funds to post his $300,000 cash bond for his release in late February. Prosecutors wondered if there would be a parade of attorneys ready to vouch for Zaratti's character at the bond hearing, although only two witnesses were called. Wilson notes that one was a bar owner; the other was a blackjack dealer Zaratti had met at a bar.

The defendant and his attorneys, civil and criminal, did not return phone calls for comment. Zaratti's ex would say only that she fears for the safety of herself and her son.

On the civil side of the action, Hoke -- the latest of many attorneys in the years-long custody battle -- says he doesn't know that much about the earlier history of Zaratti or why Susan's divorce was so sudden.

"She was young when she married him," Hoke says. "My guess would be it didn't take all that long to figure out what kind of guy he really was."

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