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Couple Allegedly Used Divorce to Shield Assets

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In Connecticut, the plaintiffs in a civil trial may not receive a dime of compensation from the successful business man that police say murdered Shamaia Smith - all because of his divorce.

Smith, 22, was an exotic dancer at a strip club when she was murdered in March 2007. Her burned remains were buried on a hunting tract owned by Kenneth J. Otto Sr., who is accused of the murder. Otto is currently being held on $5 million bail and will stand trial for felony murder and tampering with evidence.

Otto admitted to having an affair with Smith, although he had been married for over 30 years. He denies killing her. Police say that he murdered Smith and then unsuccessfully attempted to cremate her remains. The remains that were found on Otto's property were identified through DNA testing.

Smith's mother, Gloria Frink and other relatives filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Otto, seeking $4.5 million in damages. Now Frink and her family say that they may win a judgment against Otto that they will never be able to collect because Otto and his wife divorced when he became a suspect in the murder.

A lawyer for Smith's estate says that when Kathleen Otto filed for divorce the intention was to shield all of the couple's assets from a civil judgment. The divorce decree issued in the Otto's divorce dated May 30 awarded all of Kenneth Otto's property to be given to his ex-wife, with the exception of $12,500 that has been set aside for additional legal expenses. Otto has already spent $264,000 from his retirement account and other accounts on his legal defense.

Also in the divorce decree, Otto is to transfer half-interest in their $350,000 home and half-interest in a 75-acre wooded tract to his ex-wife. Other property such as a time-share, a condominium, a boat, a truck, a tractor, motorcycles and a gun collection also changed hands in the Otto divorce, according to a report by the Hartford Courant.

The lawyer representing Smith's estate has said that he will pursue an appeal of the Otto's divorce settlement. The family had filed the lawsuit in order to freeze Otto's assets, but he was able to work around that and shield the assets from liability by having his wife divorce him and disposing of his assets by letting her have everything. During the Otto's divorce proceedings, the lawyer for Smith's estate filed a motion for the estate to be names as an intervener, but the divorce court denied that request.

In the motion to intervene, it was alleged that the Ottos, who were married for more than 34 years, conspired in a plan to dispose of Otto's assets that began in mid-April 2007. This alleged plan began shortly after Otto became the prime suspect in Smith's murder. Otto was arrested on May 15, 2007. The motion to intervene will be appealed.

On April 17, 2007, a condominium that Otto had purchased for $279,000 in November 2004 was transferred to his wife for $1. Around the same time, Kathleen Otto contacted a divorce lawyer and shortly thereafter filed for divorce. During the divorce, Otto reportedly did not contest the divorce and consented to his wife's request for all of the couple's assets to be transferred to her.

Kathleen Otto's divorce lawyer says that Mrs. Otto deserved everything that she received in the divorce settlement and that the lawsuit filed by Smith's family had nothing to do with the divorce.


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