Since 1929, the Gildred family has been prominent in San Diego. Its first project was construction and operation of the Fox Theatre, now known as Symphony Hall. Through the years, Gildred Companies has developed properties throughout Southern California as its commercial property portfolio has surged to more than one million square feet, including Balfour Court in North County and Midway Industrial Park in the center of San Diego. Rancho Santa Fe’s Tom Gildred is on the board of the company and was founder of FMT Consultants and Emerald Textiles, an ecologically friendly commercial laundry operation.
Tom Gildred’s website paints him as an exemplar of business acumen, civic virtue, and philanthropy, and generally speaking, those claims are valid.
But a lawsuit the Supreme Court of the State of New York reveals a good deal of turmoil in the lives of Gildred and his wife, Carolina Gildred, whom he married in 2015. (The Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York, is a trial-level court equivalent to superior court in San Diego.)
On April 17 of this year, Carolina Gildred filed suit against Michael D. Foster, aka Darren M. Foster, a New York tango instructor whom she accuses of a “relentless campaign of harassment, defamation, and infliction of emotional distress.… This campaign has included lying about [Carolina’s] fidelity, setting up sham websites in the name of [Carolina] and her husband, falsely accusing [her] husband of criminal conduct, contacting her husband’s business office personnel with false information regarding her husband,” and leaving crude and repugnant voice mail messages.
Immediately after her suit was filed, the flamboyant New York Daily News and New York Post gleefully played up the story.
Before her marriage to Tom Gildred, Carolina was active in New York tango circles, and “Foster was present at some of the tango events [she] attended,” according to her suit. But she wasn’t introduced to him as a tango instructor until last year, the suit says. After she returned to California, they stayed in contact, and he persuaded her to have him come to San Diego and give her friends tango lessons.
Then he began pushing her to open a California tango studio with Tom Gildred’s money, according to the suit. The deal did not come together, and Foster accelerated his harassment of Carolina, claims the suit. Carolina made clear to Foster verbally and in writing that she wasn’t interested in the studio idea, according to the suit. Indeed, I have unearthed among Foster’s court documents — not Carolina’s documents — this email: “Michael, I have noticed that you are calling me every day. The dance partnership did not work out. I am okay, I am acting on my own and I appreciate if you stop calling. Carolina.”
Through an attorney, Carolina first hit Foster with a cease-and-desist order, but he continued his campaign. After she filed the New York suit this year, he bombarded the court with lengthy filings, including exhibits of phone calls and text messages between Foster and Carolina. Foster’s exhibits — if they are not contrived, edited, or taken out of context — reveal that the two did exchange a number of very friendly phone and text messages, but a large number of them appear to concern the aborted plans for a tango studio. After that business failed to get off the ground, Foster asserted in filings that he lost money and he is the one who suffers emotional distress.
When the project fell through, “Foster became unhinged,” says Carolina’s suit. He sent an email to her and to others claiming that the two had been “making love to each other.” Carolina’s suit, and her lawyer’s court filings, repeatedly say the sex charges are not true.
“She denies outright any sexual [activity],” says her lawyer, New Jersey–based Seth Rafkin. At one point, Foster himself said his charges were false, but then, in subsequent filings, he made the charges many times again. “One week it is, the other week it isn’t,” sighs Rafkin.
It was in September of last year when one of Carolina’s lawyers demanded that Foster knock it off. The following month, according to Carolina’s lawsuit, Foster sent an email to the marketing department of one of Gildred’s companies. Foster said that Tom Gildred was a “boarder[sic]-line pedophile” and had subjected Carolina to “psychological abuse” and that she was in an “abusive marriage.” She would be “the subject of a ‘murder suicide,’” said the message.
According to Carolina’s suit, Foster said that if he did not receive $10,000 from the Gildreds, he would create a “live blog” about their lives. The Gildreds refused to give him money, and he created sites such as CarolinaGildred.com and TomGildred.info. The latter is titled “JERK_OFF TOM GILDRED” and features photos of Carolina and Foster dancing with their heads close together. (My reaction: So what? After all, they have danced the tango together.)
Foster told Carolina that Tom Gildred “prefers you DEAD” and “desires to euthanize his partners” — charges the suit strongly denies. The suit says that in February of this year, Foster impersonated Tom Gildred and “attempted to hijack control of [Tom Gildred’s] Facebook account.” The following month, Foster emailed an executive of one of Tom Gildred’s companies and claimed that Carolina was being unfaithful to her husband.
On March 16 of this year, Foster wrote the letter in which he “admits that his prior statements asserting that [Carolina] had been unfaithful to her husband and had a sexual relationship with… Foster were false,” according to the suit. Despite that statement, her suit was filed in New York the next day. Then Foster began filing his defenses and counterclaims, in which he asserts, among other things, that Tom Gildred was aware of Carolina’s purported affair and that she told Foster, “I am tired of living beneath the shadows of another mans [sic] title.”
I have looked over Foster’s court filings, exhibits, emails, blogs, and YouTube videos, and I don’t think they make a very convincing case that the two had been sexual partners, as Foster claims, but I am not the judge.
At one point, a Brooklyn lawyer, Brian Figeroux, told the court that he would represent Foster, who had been filing for himself. But last month, Seth Rafkin, Carolina’s lawyer, told the court that Figeroux has not signed Foster’s pleadings. Further, Foster’s filings are “unintelligible and incoherent” and don’t state claims with precision or clarity. Rafkin doesn’t know when the case will be wrapped up.
Despite multiple efforts, the Gildreds, Figeroux, and Foster could not be reached for comment.