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Father won't get share of 9/11 payout

Leon Caldwell Sr. left his family and isn't entitled to part of his son's $2.9 million death benefit, a judge ruled.

The long-estranged father of 9/11 victim Kenneth M. Caldwell cannot claim a penny of his son's $2.9 million estate, a Brooklyn judge has ruled.

Judge Margarita Lopez Torres of Surrogate's Court ruled Monday that Leon Caldwell Sr. was "disqualified from having any share" of Kenneth Caldwell's estate, citing his abandonment and lack of support.

It was a victory for West Philadelphian Elsie Goss-Caldwell, mother of Kenneth Caldwell, who had filed suit to block her ex-husband's attempt to garner half the estate because he is the biological father.

"We are very pleased," Goss-Caldwell's attorney, Paul J. Bschorr, said in an interview yesterday. "We had a strong case going in, and the court accepted our position."

Caldwell, 59, saw his son only twice after he left the family in 1973, when Kenneth was 2, according to court documents. The last time was at a funeral in 1984.

Kenneth Caldwell, 30, a technology representative for Alliance Consulting of Philadelphia, was working in the company's New York office, on the 102d floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower, on Sept. 11, 2001.

His body was never found. Because he died without a will, Goss-Caldwell, 59, a tax preparer, was named administrator of his estate, which was awarded $2.9 million from the 9/11 Victims' Recovery Fund.

To Caldwell's contention that his ex-wife had prevented him from seeing Kenneth and his older brother, Leon II, Torres wrote that he "conceded that he never sought court intervention to obtain visitation."

"The overwhelming evidence . . . establishes that Leon Sr. abandoned Kenneth by failing to provide him with any significant emotional or financial support throughout his life."

Three years ago, Caldwell successfully claimed half of a $50,000 award to the estate by the New York State Workers' Compensation Board.

When Goss-Caldwell appealed the board's ruling to New York's Appellate Division, the appeals panel affirmed the decision, 4-1. The majority wrote that state's Workers' Compensation Law was unambiguous: Parent means "simply the biological father and mother of a child."

In the end, however, Caldwell was ordered to return $12,460 to his ex-wife to cover unpaid child support.

Caldwell, 59, a cook in Paterson, N.J., has 30 days to appeal the ruling, Bschorr said.