By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
There was no return address on the birthday card Nevine Tadrous boyfriend gave her when she turned 35—but it sounded as if it came from the heart:
"With you, I can be me. I can act silly without feeling self-conscious. Let my guard down without feeling embarrassed, tell you my hopes and fears with the deepest feelings of trust," the verse inside read. "You always accept me just the way I am, and that's why your love means so much to me."
Steven A. Sears, who'd been Tadrous' boyfriend for five years—and her employer for eight—signed it, simply, "Happy Birthday 2004." But before he sealed the envelope, Sears couldn't resist adding a personal promise to the woman who was pregnant with his triplets. "Rain or shine, day or night," Sears wrote, "I will always love you."
And you . . . and you . . . and you, too, as it turns out.
Tadrous didn't know it then, but Sears already had four children with two other Orange County women. She couldn't have known that he would go on to have four more children, including two to different mothers in 2006. She knows now. A copy of a trust that Tadrous and Sears created for a son she bore in 2005—she miscarried the triplets, a month after her birthday in 2004—and copies of birth certificates reveal that Sears has eight children with four women. So far.
All of Sears' women—none of them married to him—and all of their children live in Irvine, occupying separate houses located within four miles of one another.
How could Sears do such a thing? Not so much morally or ethically—cheaters have been around forever—but logistically: how could he pull it off? How could Sears keep four love affairs, four families—four complete households—operating simultaneously in the same suburban city without any of the girlfriends or children crossing paths?
It may seem ironic, but the living monument to master-planned family values is perfectly designed to maintain multiple families. Unlike older cities and suburbs, with their centralized downtowns, flattened right-angles and spontaneous sprawl—where anybody might be going anywhere and bump into anyone at anytime—Irvine anesthetizes and isolates its residents from their neighbors. Eerie, newly paved roads arc and twist between neighborhoods that are mathematically subdivided and along landscapes that are precisely rolling, the lawns a radioactively verdant green. They are encapsulated pods, all-but-equal but so-very-separate. This is key. In Irvine, the churches, gas stations, outdoor sports courts, and subdivisions are not only beautifully framed by well-kept hedges and painstakingly fertilized yards—they're created distinct and held separate from one another by the land. By design. By their creator, Don Bren, head of the Irvine Company, who himself has fathered three children with two women—all out of wedlock. Okay, and so maybe it doesn't seem so ironic.
Apparently it wasn't all that difficult for Sears, a prominent and successful attorney specializing in asset protection, estate planning and taxes, to juggle four girlfriends and families in a highly structured city where most walking, biking, shopping and sleeping is done within its designated subdivisions, many of them gated and guarded to discourage spur-of-the-moment visitors. Tadrous—Sears' business partner since 1999—said she was easily deceived during their relationship, never suspecting that she wasn't Sears' only girlfriend because she never spotted any rivals. And because he always professed his faithful love.
Sears never married Tadrous, who uses the names Nina Carmelle and Nevine Carmelle professionally, but she says he put a ring on her finger after she asked him to. Court records show the pair held a non-binding "wedding" ceremony, and they took "wedding" pictures at a duck pond in Garden Grove—she in a flowing white gown, he in a tuxedo and black tie.
But during their relationship, which Tadrous says began in late 1998, Sears fathered a total of seven children with three other women. His sixth child was born to one of these women on June 23, 2005, just five days after Tadrous delivered kid No. 5 on June 18, 2005.
Tadrous realizes she is not the only victim in this scenario. "I knew about [only] two of them. One that he was telling me . . . she was his ex, that he lives with his mom and his brother. I found out he lives with her."
But Tadrous, a financial planner whose business card says she has a Master's degree in taxation, is determined not to be just a victim. She finally ended her relationship with Sears in July of 2006, and in August filed two civil lawsuits against him for allegedly intimidating her into giving up control of her home. According to one of them, shortly after Tadrous bore their son in 2005, Sears allegedly coerced her into signing over the deed to her house in Irvine to the La Rosa Trust—a financial trust the two created to provide for the boy should worse ever come to worst. On Aug. 15, she sued him in Orange County Superior Court for fraud, coercion, and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress. She returned to the same court on Aug. 17 to sue him for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and for intentionally inflicting emotional distress. It was Sears' third lawsuit of the year—a former client, Charles Nguyen Allen had sued him in June—and the third case filed against him in less than 12 months.