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Connecticut Family Court Hands Children to Stepmother Instead of Real Mother When Millionaire Father Dies

William J. ‘Bill’ Grohs and Kelly Smith Grohs had two daughters, Genevieve and Sophia, during their marriage. They lived in a spacious Tudor home in Watertown CT.

Bill, an insurance broker, ran William J. Grohs Aviation, Inc. out of Oxford Airport. He was worth millions.

Kelly was a stay-at-home mother, who at times worked for Bill at his company.

Kelly Grohs with daughters Sophia and Evie.

In August 2010, when the girls were three and one years old, Bill filed for divorce.

He hired attorney Rosemary Giuliano. The court appointed attorney Mary Brigham as guardian-ad-litem [GAL] to represent the girls’ interests, while charging the parents $350 per hour. Since Bill had the money, he paid 80 percent of the GAL billings.

Bill Grohs

On Nov. 2, 2010, the Connecticut Family Services Unit’s Comprehensive Custody Evaluation recommended that Kelly have primary custody.

Bill got generous parenting rights. On March 15, 2011, a parenting agreement was entered following the completion of the custody evaluation.

On July 24, 2011, the parents’ marriage was dissolved uncontested, and the parenting plan was incorporated in their divorce.

Kelly moved out of their house to a modest home less than two miles away. Because Kelly had primary custody, she worked part time doing odd jobs such as catering and house painting. There was a big disparity in wealth, yet Kelly’s home for the girls was described as clean and nicely decorated. It was a comfortable home for mother and children.

Sophia and Evie at home with Kelly, 2014.

Bill’s new girlfriend, Vicki Cann Frenzel moved in, along with her son, to the Tudor home Bill once shared with Kelly. Vicki owns a hair salon in Oxford called Pure Platinum. Bill and Kelly’s children were taught to call her “Vicki momma”.

On October 18, 2011, three months after the divorce, Bill sought to change the custody agreement.

He retained attorney Michael Fasano of Duffy & Fasano and filed an Ex Parte Motion for Custody and a Motion for Modification before Judge Lloyd Cutsumpas.

Attorney Michael Fasano

Bill won a partial victory. On November 2, 2011, a modified agreement was entered that gave Bill more parenting time. But Bill wanted full custody and he had the money to pay for high conflict. He knew Kelly didn’t.

Bill went through the motions.

On March 1, 2012, a Conflict Resolution Conference was referred to Family Services which was unsuccessful.

On June 5, 2012, it was referred to Family Services for Issue Focused Evaluation to determine if it was advisable to modify the parenting plan.

Family Services determined that modification was not in the best interest of the children.

On August 2, 2012, a lengthy post judgment parenting plan was entered. It was specific to certain protocol being followed by both parents before any motions to modify can be filed with the court.

Suspected Child Abuse

Then something potentially damaging was disclosed.

In September 2012, Kelly took Genevieve to pediatrician Dr. Ephraim Bartfeld based on concerns Genevieve disclosed to Kelly the previous day. Dr. Bartfeld, a mandatory reporter, told Department of Children and Families, that Genevieve claimed Vicki’s teenage son put his finger in her vagina. Investigations were launched and the children were interviewed multiple times.

The Child Abuse Interdisciplinary Team and Dr. Bartfeld were involved in what Bill called a “massive investigation.”  In the end, there were no findings of abuse by the son.

Bill claimed Kelly coached Genevieve what to say to the doctor and DCF.  Kelly said she did not coach Genevieve. She merely took her to the doctor after she made the disclosure.

Bill Had the Money

After this it was open and notorious warfare.

Bill kept pouring it on, opening his checkbook to Fasano.  He reportedly spent over $45,000 pursuing a contempt of court motion against Kelly claiming she violated their custody agreement when she went to the pediatrician before consulting with him.

The battle went on for years.

On May 24, 2016, Bill filed a Motion of Contempt and a Motion to appoint a Guardian Ad Litem stating the mother has not been following the court order.

In May 2016, Bill called police because he had the children in his care but didn’t want to return them to Kelly because he claimed she was intoxicated. He provided no proof, but a record of the call was duly noted.

In October 2016, someone contacted police to report Kelly was intoxicated in her car at a gas station with the children. The police showed up at a startled Kelly’s house shortly after. Police reported she was in her bathrobe and did not appear intoxicated.

On October 18, 2016, Bill filed a Motion for Modification of the custody and parenting plan.

In November Bill brought on another attorney, Julie R. Fasano. She deposed Kelly, charging Bill $300 per hour.

On December 20, 2016, Brigham was re-appointed as GAL and the matter was referred to the Family Services for a Comprehensive Custody Evaluation.

Pushing Alcohol Abuse

On January 23, 2017, the accusations of drinking by the lawyers and GAL Brigham, who supported the man who paid her, Bill Grohs, made Kelly, trying to prove she was not a drunk, agree to submit to random breathalyzer tests through a device she would carry with her and provide a test within fifteen minutes of the testing prompt.

If Kelly tested with a readying of 0.02 or higher during her parenting time, or was late taking the test, GAL Brigham would file a request with the court for an emergency status conference to try to take the children away.

GAL, attorney Mary Brigham

This testing would continue until May 5, 2017.

Just a month and a week before the testing was to end, and Kelly had repeatedly passed it, on March 29, 2017, GAL Brigham filed an emergency request with the court stating Kelly had not complied with her breathalyzer testing by providing a late test.

On March 31, 2017, a beaten Kelly agreed she would not drink alcohol at all, not even during her non-parenting time and any positive test or missed test would result in Bill obtaining custody and Kelly would get only supervised access to the children.

Kelly could not drink a glass of wine at home, even when the kids were away.

Bill was winning the war by outspending Kelly.

By this time, Kelly was on food stamps. In fact, Kelly was unable to pay the GAL.

But GAL Brigham filed a contempt motion against Kelly for non-payment of $2,300 for her share of the professional services.

Judge Marie Louise Schofield

Judge Judge Marie Louise Schofield Schofield ordered payment to Brigham or else Kelly would face contempt and go to jail.

Brigham’s  invoices. Her correspondence. Take a look at three invoices of GAL Brigham:  $7,500 billed for reading emails, talking on the telephone, driving to court, meeting with attorneys and review of the Summer Enrichment Program. By calling or emailing lawyers GAL Brigham created billable hours for them as well as herself.

2017 Was a Very Bad Year

Meantime Julie Fasano had marshals show up and serve a subpoena on a startled Kelly on a Saturday morning. The subpoena demanded another deposition, this time on her finances and commanded her to produce 72 months of bank statements, images of all checks on any type of account, all W2’s, 1099’s. They were looking to see if she had purchased any liquor or anything else they could use against her.

Kelly could not afford to pay her lawyer so Robert S. Kolesnik withdrew from the case.  Without a lawyer, Kelly was acting pro se while Bill was spending tens of thousands on lawyers and, unlike Kelly, did not have to be prompted to pay the guardian ad litem. He knew she was available for purchase and at the very reasonable rate of $350 per hour.

As Bill spent money on depositions, even of his own witnesses, making extensive discovery requests, filing briefs, running up over $50,000 in combined legal fees on a single motion, he successfully drained the mother’s cash and exhausted her borrowing power.

After he lost a contempt prosecution, he filed a custody motion. The mother’s money was gone.

In August 2017, Fasano filed a motion asking the court to take the children away from Kelly and cut off visitation.

Fasano allegations were vague. He alleged Kelly had an “unwillingness to facilitate and encourage a continual parent-child relationship between the minor children and the plaintiff by involving them in court proceedings and speaking negatively about the plaintiff to the minor children.” She displayed “manipulative behaviors” but he did not specify what those were.

He claimed the children’s “physical and mental well-being while at the defendant’s [Kelly’s] residence and while in her care,” was “detrimental to the psychological well-being and best interests of the minor children.”

Chris Haddad, the family relations officer of the court, rejected these claims and recommended no change to the six-year-old custody/living arrangement. On June 12, Kate O’Conner from that office completed a custody evaluation for the court finding that the mother was a fit parent and the custody agreement should remain in place.

A Damning Report

It was recommended to the judge that Bill Grohs take a course in how to be a parent, act civilly and stop creating family conflicts. The report also provided a startling picture of how hard Bill was trying to destroy Kelly.

He was determined to demonstrate Kelly’s unfitness as a parent as he made one accusation after another to the evaluator, almost all of them unproven and untrue.

Bill said Kelly had Munchausen syndrome by proxy. Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a mental health problem in which a caregiver makes up or causes an illness or injury in a person under his or her care. The evaluator contacted Dr. Bartfeld who said Kelly did not exhibit symptoms of Munchausen by Proxy and there was no concern of medical neglect.

Bill pushed his claim that Kelly had issues with alcohol. He had gone to the length of hiring a private investigation firm, JEM Investigative Services, to spy on his wife. The firm got five people to provide statements of their observations or purported knowledge of Kelly’s alcohol abuse.

Kelly said she believed Bill went searching for people to make statements against her in his pursuit to ruin her reputation and diminish her role as a parent.

Bill claimed she was driving with the children intoxicated and left them in the car while pumping gas as she bought cigarettes.

Bill, spending big money spying on his wife, provided a video tape from a gas station to purportedly demonstrate that Kelly left the children in the car while buying cigarettes.

The evaluator, O’Conner, wrote, “It was unclear to this writer what the footage actually showed, but what is concerning is the length that Mr. Grohs would go to demonstrate a concern that did not need that much attention. If he continues to nitpick every little thing Ms. Grohs does it will only continue to destroy any chances of having an effective co-parenting relationship with Ms. Grohs. A more reasonable way to have handled that was to speak to her about it and ask that she not do it again.”

What then evaluator did not understand was that Bill did not have any intention of coparenting and his cooperation with the evaluator was just a sham.

O’Conner continued: “This writer met with Mr. Grohs on more than three occasions. In those meetings, Mr. Grohs had a difficult time articulating his proposal for the custody of the children. It was striking that new concerns would come forward on Ms. Grohs after the initial conjoint meeting. Serious allegations were made…  it appears Mr. Grohs is determined in his pursuit to demonstrate Ms. Grohs’ unfitness as a parent. … this relentless behavior is not helpful.

“He appeared to lack the insight that his pursuit to obtain information from people in the community on Ms. Grohs’s drinking or irresponsibility only compounds the conflict between the parents. Mr. Grohs paints a mission to prove something instead of trying to fix it. This will only have a damaging effect on the children despite whether he is proven right or wrong.”

After a discovery motion with the court, Bill obtained banking statements of Kelly that showed multiple purchases of alcohol over a one-year period. He was eager to show this as proof to the evaluator.

Kelly admitted to the evaluator she drank wine, sometimes two glasses a night, but it did not rise to the level of a drinking problem. Bill never saw her intoxicated with the children, Kelly said.

Bill turned his attention next to claim the children had excessive absences from school when their mother had them. The evaluator reported that the children’s schools reported there were no attendance issues with either child.

Sophia told the evaluator that when she is sick, her mother had her stay home and took care of her. Her father sent her to school when she was sick.

Father Revealed He Did Not Like Mother

Sophia disclosed how her father told her he did not like how her mother looks and she’s not a friend.

“Sophia felt bad about this because she feels she looks like her mother. Sophia stated that her father told her he has people watching her and keeping her safe. He told her that sometimes people are telling him stuff that is going on at her mother’s home. Sophia feels that nothing bad is going on at her mother’s home.”

Kelly with daughter Sophia.

The evaluator also noticed how Bill rudely interrupted Kelly when they were interviewed together. “[Bill] would not allow [Kelly] to finish her thoughts or sentences… This writer had to tell him multiple times to allow Ms. Grohs to finish.”

Wanted Sole Custody

Bill told the evaluator he should have sole legal and physical custody of the children because he and Vicki could provide a stable and safe home for the children.  Vicki was also interviewed. She belittled Kelly and told the evaluator that the children called her, Vicki, “mom” too suggesting she was the better mother.

The custody evaluator wrote, “Mr. Grohs needs to remind Ms. Frenzel she is in the role of a step-parent, not the children’s mother. At times, Mr. Grohs expressed that he and Vicki can provide the children with a stable home, however  he has to  understand that Vicki will not replace the girls’ mother.“

How wrong she was, as we shall see.

The custody evaluator recommended no changes should be made to the custody agreement the parents followed since 2012.

But Bill’s money trumped this report.

Bill Steals the Kids

Bill’s attorney Michael Fasano made an emergency motion to get custody. Bill, who paid 80 percent of GAL Brigham’s fees, had her in his corner.

Judge Anna Ficeto

Connecticut Family Court Judge Anna M. Ficeto decided that sole custody of the girls was to be awarded to the father with no visitation for the mother as of Sept. 1, 2017, on time for the first day of school.

No reason was stated, no memo of decision issued, no citation of ‘change in circumstance’, no cause was given by the court, no published statement of cause in the public court file to document the incredible fact that a judge took the kids away from their mother six years after the divorce was settled.

Six years, 120 post judgment docket entries, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal and GAL fees paid by Bill, two law firms, six attorneys, private investigators, psychologist, interrogations, countless hours of depositions, discoveries, and valuable court time finally paid off.

Bill got the children from away from their mother and her extended family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, half siblings, even neighborhood pals. He wouldn’t let the girls talk to family on the phone or get gifts or cards. Fasano threatened the mother’s family with police action should they try to maintain familial relations with the girls. When Kelly sent flowers for the children to the school, Bill called the police.

Sophia and Evie with Kelly’s extended family. The girls have been isolated from loved ones since December 2016.
Sophia (white dress) and Evie (orange sash), with their cousins.

Kelly Tries to Find Out Why

On September 11, 2017, a desperate Kelly Grohs filed a motion to get Judge Ficeto to at least state her reasons for taking away her children. She would need this to make an appeal.

She filed “The defendant moves the court to comply with CGS § 51-190a, Filing of papers upon decision, in the instant matter for decisions rendered from proceedings on 10 and 31 August. Absent statutory compliance in filing memorandum of decision with the clerk, there is no public record of the factual basis of the decision by Ficeto, J. Filing with the clerk also required by PB § 6.1(6) and is required for purposes of appeal under CGS § 52-263. WHEREFORE, the aforementioned presented, a matter of due process in statutory compliance, in the best interests of the children and to prosecute appeal; said memorandum of decision to be filed post haste with the clerk.”

Judge Ficeto denied the request to tell the mother why she did what she did, and to this day no one knows why Kelly cannot see her children.

Kelly Grohs

Kelly Stalking?

Now that he had the kids, Bill needed to destroy Kelly’s credibility. Bill sought a restraining order in October. Vicki claimed in a sworn affidavit, that Kelly was standing in the bushes staring at her son, stalking him. There were no pictures or video evidence. Kelly denied doing this.

Ficeto Takes Care of Her Own

While she did not care to state her reasons for denying the mother contact with her children, Judge Ficeto was clear in ordering another emergency hearing on fees due to GAL Brigham.  Kelly owed the GAL over $5,000 for her role in taking her children away.

Kelly had no money. Judge Ficeto threatened the mother with jail.  Kelly borrowed the money. The GAL was paid. Everyone was happy but the children and their mother.

After wrapping up business in Judge Ficeto’s court, by getting custody for the wealthy father, and getting the GAL paid for her work, the Grohs case was moved to the Regional Family Trial Docket before Judge Mark Gould, who sits in Bridgeport.

Judge Mark Gould

There was no court order by a judge, the litigants never filed for change of venue, no compliance with the special docket rules, no hearing specifying why the Waterbury judges couldn’t handle the matter, yet the case was moved halfway across the state for trial.

Kelly got some money together and retained attorney David DeRosa hoping that with a new judge she would have a chance at winning custody back.

In August 2018, about a year after the mother was removed from the children’s lives, Kelly’s lawyer, DeRosa, had not filed a single motion on behalf of the mother of any legal merit, yet he invoiced her for a great deal of ‘legal’ work.

Judge Gould shut down the proceedings. DeRosa was found to be incompetent. But Judge Gould kept Judge Ficeto’s order in place, denying the mother contact with her children. Once again Kelly was stymied.

GAL Keeps on Giving

September 24, 2018

Connecticut Superior Court guardian ad litem Mary Piscatelli Brigham kept working on the case, supposedly ensuring the best interest of the children, but really working to enlarge her billings, charged the mother $5700 for her services in taking away her children.

At the same time, Brigham billed the father, Bill, for her services in getting him the children, documented in 12 pages going back 21 months, for $51,000.

Bill paid almost 10 times as much and paid on time. He got his money’s worth. He bought custody of the children.

Bill Reaps What He Sowed

Bill must have enjoyed the glory of taking his children away from their mother. He and Vicki momma had them all to themselves. Bill enjoyed part of 2017, all of 2018 and some of 2019. Then with a dash of poetic justice, the man who did everything to destroy the woman who brought his children into the world, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

All his money could not purchase a lawyer to buy his way out. No judge could rule in his favor. Bill was dying. His condition went from bad to worse.

His will provided that his money went to his girls, a residual estate worth millions managed in a trust drawn up by Fasano. Vicki, who was not his wife, was not included in the will. When he died, the children would get Bill’s money, Kelly would get the children back and Vicki would be out the door.

Vicki, who lived with Bill for nine years, took action. First, she married the dying man with a prenuptial agreement that ensured she was taken care of.

With Bill in ICU, Vicki Cann Frenzel gets ’emergency’ custody of girls.

She then realized she could control his estate but she needed custody of the children. By early January, 2020, Bill was fully incapacitated. He could not do a thing.  Vicki told the court Bill was dying in ICU and only had days to live. She wanted an emergency hearing for custody of the children claiming that Kelly was out of the children’s lives.

The Last Minute Will

On January 26, Vicki helped her dying husband execute a new will on his death bed, witnessed by ‘friends’.

It seems that Vicki might have devised or wrote the terms of the new will. She had Bill give most of his estate to his children but to be held in trust that Vicki alone controlled.

Vicki could not get away with snatching all his wealth, not after just marrying him. There was a trust out there with Fasano and a will which gave the money to his kids. She could not just come along and take it all to herself. There was millions at stake.

There was a better way. She was named as the trustee of the new will with almost unlimited power to spend for the children [and herself] as she saw fit. The new will also added perks for her and her son.  Vicki’s son got Bill’s collection of trucks and $45,000.

Vicki got the Chevy Tahoe and the Tudor home in Watertown, worth about half a million, as well as the entire contents of the home, plus $350,000 “which” as the will stated, “is in satisfaction of my prenuptial commitments to her, as well as my love for her.”

And the new will ensured Kelly got nothing.

“I knowingly and intentionally make no provision herein for my former wife, KELLY GROHS, for reasons which I do not care to mention herein. It is my intention that there be no circumstances nor conditions under which she shall ever inherit anything whatsoever from my estate.”

And Vicki wanted to make sure the old trust drawn by Fasano was not considered valid.

The new will stated, “I knowingly and intentionally confirm that under no circumstances nor conditions shall my former attorney MICHAEL FASANO, SR. be involved in any way, shape or manner with my person nor my Estate, nor shall any of the documents I formerly drew up with him as my attorney, all of which I am now revoking and destroying in their entirely, be used for any reason.”

The trust for the children was really a trust for Vicki since she could “hold, manage, invest and reinvest …  and to collect the income… To pay over or to expend for the benefit of each such beneficiary so much of the annual net income and principal as the Trustee, in her sole discretion, shall deem advisable for such beneficiary’s health, maintenance, education, comfort, interest and support.”

And may accumulate and periodically add to the principal of said part any income not so expended.’

Vicki controls all the money until the girls are 25.  Vicki can spend from the trust all costs of fighting for custody of the children and to employ legal and investment counsel, accountants, or other agents and advisors for the transaction of any business of the estate including protecting her role as trustee.

The new will also appointed Vicki as executrix “with full power and authority to sell, transfer and convey any property, real or personal… at public or private sale, at such time and price and upon such terms and conditions…  at any price my Executrix shall determine is adequate, and upon whatever terms she deems advisable.”

In short Vicki could sell anything Bill owned for any price, even sell it to herself at a discount.

The new will not only changed the terms of the trusts that Fasano had drawn when Bill was well and could think for himself, and vastly improved Vicki’s position; it even shows signs of Vicki’s authorship.

The new will states, “I have sole legal and physical custody of my minor daughters, SOHIA M. GROHS AND GENEVIEVE T. GROHS, and they live with my me and my wife VICKI FRENZEL (whom they call Mommy Vicki), and I appoint my wife VICKI FRENZEL to be the Guardian of the person(s) of my minor children of this my Last Will and Testament, because of the love they share and the commitment for their health and welfare that my wife has shown for them.”

Vicki Gets Custody

With the new will squared away, on Feb. 14, 2020, Vicki, who filed for custody of the girls claiming she was the ‘psychological mother’ of the children, went to court.

For reasons that are unclear Kelly did not appear at this hearing, possibly because she did not know that it was occurring.

Judge Eric Coleman in giving custody to Vicki ruled that she had a relationship with the two girls that is ‘akin to that of a parent’.

He wrote that by Kelly’s “own volition [she] had not had any meaningful contact with the minor children for two and half years.” Volition is “the faculty or power of using one’s will.” It was not Kelly who chose to not see her children. The court and Bill’s money saw to that.


About two weeks later, on Monday, March 2, 2020, William J. “Bill” Grohs Jr. 58, passed away, at home.

He spent his last nine years on earth and probably over a half a million dollars on lawyers to get his children taken from their mother. The girlfriend got the children and their trust funds too.

After his death, in Southbury probate court, Vicki went to take control of the children’s insurance proceeds from Bill’s life insurance. She took the witness stand and testified how she intercepted gifts from Kelly’s family and friends to prevent the girls from having contact with their natural family. GAL Brigham was present billing the estate $350 per hour.

It had been a long battle.

Judge Cutsumpas opened the divorce judgement three months after the divorce. He had the case for five years, then Judge Ficeta took the case at the end of 2016, with some pinch hitting by Judge Mary Louise Schofield and Judge Andrew Roraback.

The case was passed to Judge Mark Gould at RFTD in early 2018.  Gould kept it until January 2020, without making a ruling, then sent it back to Waterbury where Judge Coleman gave the money and the children who went with it to stepmother Vicki because Bill was dying.

So Bill is dead; the case is over: 3,142 days of post judgement litigation at an end.

Cancer took his life. The lawyers took his money. The stepmother got the children. The mother and her children have not been in contact for four and a half years. They were 9 and 11 when their father‘s wealth procured them from Family Court.

All that fighting to deprive the mother. All that money wasted. He did not live to see his children grow up or reap the harvest of vengeance winning against the mother of his children.

As for the children, do they remember the woman who gave them birth and raised them for the first decade of their lives? Have they been alienated completely and taught to efface her memory?

This is Connecticut Family Court as it really is, a racketeering operation which exists for the welfare or lawyers and the GALs; a rotten place that needs to be investigated for the many crimes that are committed there.

About the author


News and art, national and local. Began as alternative weekly in 1990 in Buffalo, NY. Publishing content online since 1996.

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