D.A. candidate, after bitter divorce, gives up visitation with
six children, endures social services investigation
By TRACIE CONE
Pinnacle Staff Writer
Art Cantu, running for county District Attorney on a
pro-juvenile platform, has been under two temporary restraining
orders preventing him, at times, from seeing his own six
D.A. candidate, after bitter divorce, gives up visitation with six children, endures social services investigation
By TRACIE CONE
Pinnacle Staff Writer
Art Cantu, running for county District Attorney on a pro-juvenile platform, has been under two temporary restraining orders preventing him, at times, from seeing his own six children.
Two and a half years ago, according to court records, he withdrew his request to his ex-wife for visitation with his children, all under age 12 at the time.
The court also ordered Cantu and his ex-wife, Cynthia, to abstain from the corporal punishment of their four girls and two boys, according to records in the couple’s divorce file.
“You’re sandbagging me,” Cantu said in a brief interview at his office Wednesday morning after he had declined to return repeated telephone calls asking for comment on Tuesday. He declined to answer questions, then sent a fax response to the newspaper two hours later stating that a candidate’s personal life should not be relevant to an election.
“The people of this county deserve and expect the next elected district attorney to be a man of some honor,” Cantu wrote. “To this end you need to know that I am a loving and supporting father, who intends to respect my former wife’s privacy and protect our children.”
Cantu has been criticized in recent weeks for taking a negative turn on the campaign trail, most recently with a letter that distorts a murder trial handled by opponent John Sarsfield, a Hollister resident who is an assistant district attorney in Monterey County. Cantu proponents also have been alleging that Sarsfield, who has lived with his family in Hollister for 10 years, resides in another county. Cantu did not attend a candidate forum Tuesday sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau.
A newspaper background check of both candidates revealed Merced County court records of Cantu’s 1999 separation and divorce showing an acrimonious split in which the children often were pitted parent against parent. Social services was called in to investigate abuse allegations, and the family was ordered into counseling.
A court-ordered psychologist described both parties as being “immature,” the mother as being “intimidated” and the father “controlling and manipulative.” He said a note hand-written in all capital letters by Art Cantu was illustrative of the family dynamics:
“I MAKE ALL THE MONEY FOR THIS HOUSE ALL OF IT. I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO HAS EVER HAD A FULL-TIME JOB SUPPORTING THIS HOUSE DON’T FORGET IT WHEN YOU WINE (SIC) ABOUT LITTLE CHORSE (SIC) SAYING I DON’T HELP YOU. YOU DON’T HELP ME MAKE $!! Art.”
The couple, living in Los Banos, separated in May 1999 after an 11-year, two-month marriage. They were married when he was in law school in 1987. She was a stay-at-home mom who gave birth every 12 months to 23 months.
At candidate forums during the campaign, Cantu has stressed his position that the focus of his office would be on children.
“It’s long overdue that this county had a (full-time) specialist, an expert in juvenile crime working in the DA’s office, to make those expert decisions with juveniles to make sure they don’t come back,” Cantu said in San Juan Bautista last Thursday. “The wrong decision could encourage this kid to come back or harden this kid and before you know it we have an angry young man who’s in the county jail and putting a burden on this community.”
On April 19, 2000, Cynthia sought and received a restraining order against Arthur Cantu that included her and the six children. Art Cantu was ordered to give up his guns and to stay 100 yards away from the children’s school. Temporary restraining orders are reviewed and signed by judges based on the likelihood that the applicant would be successful in a full court hearing. The court record is unclear as to whether Cynthia, who declined to comment for the story, had attempted to make them permanent.
In her complaint seeking the restraining order, Cynthia told the court that she has involved police in disputes several times, court records show. She asked for the restraint and for “orders for anger management.” Los Banos police confirmed numerous calls to the couple’s address during the final years of the marriage, but Commander Dan Fitchie said Wednesday that files had to be reviewed by the city attorney before they could be released.
The court file shows photos of the children with bruises on them and allegations from Cynthia that they were caused when Art Cantu inflicted corporal punishment. School officials who noticed the bruising reported the allegations to the Merced County Human Services Child Protective Services Department, according to the court record. The results of that investigation are not public.
A psychologist who interviewed the family wrote in his court report that Art Cantu “was also transporting the children for the purposes of child sharing in both an unsafe and illegal fashion, namely in the pack of a pickup camper shell.”
Art Cantu once proposed that the mother keep five children and he be given custody of his oldest son, according to the court record.
“Clearly,” wrote psychologist Donald Strangio, “these two parents do not currently meet the criteria for effective co-parenting…”
Art Cantu responded to the court on June 27, 2001, that in June 2000 he “gave up visiting his children because of what (Cynthia) was putting them through. She had obtained two temporary restraining orders stopping his visitation, which were both quashed at the hearings. The children were being checked and questioned after each visit. (Cantu) felt backing away from visits until Mrs. Cantu’s anger and bitterness toward him subsided was in the best interest of his children.”
The conflict over the children arose in San Benito County again on June 27 when Cynthia filed a parental abduction report with the Sheriff’s Office after their oldest son disappeared after the Rodeo Parade. The investigative report stated that a court order signed by Cantu on June 28, 2000, “stipulates that Cantu will not be exercising any visitation with his six minor children.”
While at the parade this past summer, Cynthia said her oldest son walked to get something to eat, but did not return. As she searched downtown for her son, she made a report with the Hollister Police Department, according to the report. She later learned that Art Cantu had given the boy a ride to her home, but could not find him when she arrived at the residence. It was then she called the sheriff’s office.
According to the report, deputies tried to call Cantu at his office, at a home he rents on Cienega Road and at his home in Los Banos “with negative results.” At 1:15 a.m., the sheriff’s office entered the boy into a statewide computer network as a possible abducted child. An hour later he was discovered in a trailer behind Cynthia’s home.
Art Cantu told sheriff’s investigators that he ran into his son at the parade and gave him a ride to the place where he was supposed to meet his grandparents. The son instead asked Art Cantu to drive him home, which he said he did after returning a horse to a friend in Los Banos.
In Cantu’s response to The Pinnacle, he alluded to the newspaper’s Internet attack by Joe Felice by writing “…as you have experienced, your personal lives have no bearing on how you do business.”
Staff Writer Kate Woods contributed to this report.