BRATTLEBORO >> Lillian Billewicz, 57 of Westminster, the former owner of Santa's Land in Putney, appeared in court Tuesday afternoon for a restitution hearing to pay for the care of animals that were taken from her custody.
Billewicz owes $32,839.18 to the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington and $4,804.60 to a private individual, who have been caring for the Santa's Land animals that were forfeited because, according to court documents, Billewicz "cruelly treated her animals by depriving them of 'adequate food, water, shelter,rest, sanitation, or necessary medical attention.'" On Tuesday, Billewicz said she is waiting to hear back on a loan and she also made it known she had filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy the day prior of the hearing. This came as a surprise to Windham County State's Attorney Tracy. K Shriver and Judge Katherine A Hayes.
"I do want proof there has been a filing, so I am going to ask that you file that within 10 days of proof of your filing of the Chapter 13 petition including a copy of it and confirmation that it has in fact been filed" said Hayes to Billewicz.
Judge Hayes noted she felt she could not make any orders until she saw proof of the bankruptcy.
In the winter of 2013/2014, 18 animals, including 16 deer, were found dead at the holiday-themed destination in Putney. Billewicz bought Santa's Land in 2013. She and her animal caretaker at the time, Brian Deistler of Westminster, each were arraigned on one misdemeanor count and were released on conditions ordered by Judge David Suntag in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division in 2014. Billewicz also filed for bankruptcy in 2014, but noted in court on Tuesday that it had been withdrawn. Hayes did not order proof of this bankruptcy filing, but asked that she provide it.
Under oath during Tuesday's restitution hearing, Billewicz answered several questions from Hayes and Shriver regarding her finances. Billewicz explained that she is currently living with Deistler in Westminster and that she is currently unemployed and is not seeking work as she is "very busy" with a family litigation matter and this case. Billewicz said she has a Bachelor's degree in health administration as well as nursing and a Masters of Education and practiced as a lawyer in Fair Haven in the mid or late 1990s. However she is not interested in pursuing any of those fields because she feels she it has been "too long" since she practiced.
When Hayes asked her how she is surviving in regards to food and transportation she stated that she does not own a vehicle and that Deistler and his grandparents help provide.
The hearing also revealed that Billewicz purchased Santa's Land in 2013 using a family trust that at one time contained "hundreds of thousands" of dollars. She stated that when she purchased the site, it "basically depleted" the trust.
Billewicz said that trustee of her trust is her son, Michael, who she says is now 26 years old, and that he approved the purchase with those funds.
"How is it determined when and how much you receive in funds from that trust." Hayes asked Billewicz.
Billewicz said that it is at the trustee's transgression and the last time she received anything was about one year ago, which was "$1,000 or so."
Her other source of income is her mother's estate. She said she is unsure of the amount of funds that remain in the trust, but she estimates that it is between $8,000 to $10,000. She said she receives payments "every now and then" from this estate, and is unsure of how that amount is distributed among her and her two children, Michael and Jonathan, 28.
When Hayes asked Billewicz what she thinks she should do in regards to ordering her to pay any amount for her restitution, Billewicz asked for a month to get the loan figured out.
"That way I could make an educated contribution to the court."
According to Shriver, they are "very close" in coming to a resolution regarding the remaining criminal matters for Billewicz. She said she is waiting for some restitution information for one set of animals. She said she is "very confident" that they will have resolution regarding the criminal matters soon after April 23.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275