Dr. Buzzard

Mediator Gary Karpin preyed on vulnerable divorcées, falsely claiming he's a lawyer and a Ph.D.

Then and now, Karpin's shtick combines a self-help New Age sensibility -- "Transformative Mediation for Couples That Want to Reconcile," one of his ads pitches -- with hardball divorce-attorney tactics.

And like any intelligent salesman, which Karpin is, he's expert at reading people and, when it suits him, exploiting their weaknesses while they're at their most susceptible.

But just as in Vermont, complaints about Karpin started to flow into the State Bar in Arizona in the late 1990s, some from attorneys and others from consumers.

Gina Niedzwiecki (center)
Jon Jeffery
Gina Niedzwiecki (center)

Fran Johansen started to see a pattern in the complaints; there are now 26 on file at the Bar. Karpin, it seemed, occasionally was using his mediation business to pick up women.

"There's nothing wrong," Karpin says, "with connecting with someone intellectually, personally or emotionally as long as it's not sexual."

But in 1999, for example, an estranged couple (we'll call them the Nolans) first met with Karpin to mediate their divorce. Patrick Nolan (who asked New Times to change his last name) said he and his then-wife would pay Karpin $1,500 each to perfect their divorce decree.

"All of a sudden, I was getting letters from him on my ex's behalf," says the father of four daughters. "I got my own lawyer and never saw him again. I know all about his intimidation tactics, but he's still very, very believable at first. And he knows the system. He's a con artist."

Nolan says his wife told him before their divorce was final that she was dating Karpin. Eventually, she moved in with the mediator -- Karpin says they're engaged to be married.

Karpin says Nolan never quarreled about the original divorce decree, which "must mean that my product was satisfactory for him."

Karpin sued Patrick Nolan last April 1 for defamation, slander, restraint of trade and other allegations. He dropped his case on January 13.

Court records indicate Nolan is the primary custodial parent of the couple's four daughters.

"I haven't spoken to Karpin since I went to the one session years ago," he says. "He's all about money and control, and I hate it when my kids get to go to his house to see their mother every other weekend. Sometimes, I want to strangle the guy."

On May 9, 2003, Gina and Joe Niedzwiecki went for a "free initial consultation" with Gary Karpin.

Gina had decided to divorce Joe, and though the split was tough on both, they resolved to make it as painless as possible. They paid Karpin $975 at the end of the first session, and took paperwork with them to fill out before the next meeting.

Much later, Gina painstakingly typed a history of her interactions with Karpin over the next 15 months. She also attached canceled checks and other proof of her payments to the mediator, an astounding sum of $87,767.

Before the third session, the couple paid Karpin another $1,000. But Gina says her estranged husband left in anger after Karpin asked him for financial information that the couple already had provided, and demanded more money.

At Karpin's request, Gina says, she and Joe sat in separate rooms during their fourth mediation meeting, in July 2003. She later paid Karpin yet another $3,000 on a joint credit card, but she says Joe canceled the payment after he learned about it.

Joe apparently never spoke to Karpin again, but Gina returned to his office the following week.

She later wrote that Karpin told her she now needed to pay him $5,000 because the divorce issues were heating up. Gina paid up, this time with her own funds.

She met with Karpin about once every other week for months, and says he finally completed a draft of the couple's potential divorce settlement in October 2003.

But she says it was filled with inaccuracies. A second draft that December also was fraught with mistakes, which Karpin apparently blamed on his "typing pool."

Gina says she saw an ad for Divorce With Dignity in New Times around that time with Karpin's photograph, and mentioned it to him. She says he told her the photo had been the idea of "corporate," not his.

"I always thought he was an attorney working for a large firm," she says. "I signed my checks to 'Divorce Associates.' It never occurred to me that he wasn't a lawyer."

Gina kept paying and paying and paying.

She says one reason she kept paying him was because he promised repeatedly to return her so-called "good-faith retainer" money when her case ended.

But the bigger reason probably is that Gina was emotionally hooked on Karpin, with whom she says she'd been conversing about everything but the divorce.

"I felt there was a 'connection' between the two of us," Gina later wrote to the Bar. "I liked him a lot, and I'm sure he knew that. And I got very clear signs from him that he felt the same. . . . He repeated many times during the 15 months, 'Let's get you single so we can take this to the next level.'"

In early April 2004, Gina says, Karpin told her that county court commissioner Eve Parks was "having trouble" with the terms of the Niedzwieckis' proposed divorce agreement: "He adamantly told me time and time again that he wasn't God, but he would do what he could to convince [Parks] to agree to our consent decree as written."

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