ABC21 Digging Deeper: Parents Who Don’t Pay

Prosecutors and deputies spend a lot of money, time and resources – not on solving and preventing violent crimes – but on collecting child support.

In fact, hundreds of millions of dollars in child support is owed to single parents just in northeast Indiana alone – money that law enforcement officials say you ultimately front some of the bill for.

Huntington County Deputy Tim Farthing is hoping to catch two deadbeat parents wanted on warrants for not paying thousands of dollars in child support.

It’s a weekly task for the sheriff’s department with a frustrating success rate.

First Daniel Irvine wanted out of Wabash County and last reported to owe more than $18,000 in child support.

No one answers the door, we check around back and find a woman inside a van. After looking over a mugshot, she thinks she’s seen him before but says he’s already left for the day.

Next up is Kari Nunemaker. She’s in the hole more than $47,000 for unpaid child support.

A second deputy stands by the back of the house to make sure no one tries to run off. But no one’s home, and without seeing someone inside, deputies can’t do much else but try again later.

In Huntington County, the average amount of unpaid child support owed is more than $7,000 dollars. Though the highest amount is more than $87,000.

Sheriff Terry Stoffel says the headache grows tenfold when deadbeats try to leave town.

“Often times when somebody is behind in their arrears or in their payments,” says Stoffel. “They think that leaving the state is the way to avoid it. That in turn makes a lot of work for me because, I just pulled a few off the top. Here’s Atlanta-Georgia, here’s Tulsa-Oklahoma, Punta Gorda-Florida, New Port Richie-Florida. just all over the place. We have to bring them back and bring them in front of a judge."

Stoffel says they usually get a few days in jail for missing a court date. And then it’s lather, rinse and repeat.

"They get released on their own recognizance,” says Stoffel. “And six months later we’re back to Florida again and bringing them back."

And here’s where your tax dollars really kick in:

"We have a line item just for extraditions and we usually eat that up pretty quick every year,” says Stoffel. “Fifteen thousand dollars a year is what Huntington has in their line item. And often times we run out of that, and then we’re just kinda burdened with we’ll have to send deputies down – fly em down or drive down and just go get them when that money is gone."

In fact, Stoffel says about nine out of every 10 extraditions executed by his deputies are for parents who are not paying child support.

"We’re taxed and taxpayers are paying for us to run all over the country for mostly child support,” says Stoffel. “Felony child support."

And your tax dollars aren’t just going towards tracking deadbeats down, if they don’t pay up, officials say you get stuck footing the bill.

“One way or the other it’s a burden to the taxpayer," says Stoffel.

A burden in the form of low-income assistance programs like food stamps, Medicaid and welfare.

"If we don’t do this enforcement and get people to pay,” says Allen County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Michael McAlexander. “All of those kids will fall through the cracks, and be back on our welfare rolls, and will ultimately cost us more money."

McAlexander says about 40 percent of his office is devoted to collecting child support.

"We collect annually right around $40 million," says McAlexander.

With between 19,000 – 23,000 active child support cases to enforce, the office rakes in about 65 percent of what is actually due every year.

"It can be frustrating,” says McAlexander. “But we’ve learned over the years, that if you make an order reasonable, that a person can meet, that it works better."

That still leaves the county – and single parents – with millions of dollars unpaid.

"If we don’t take care of this,” says McAlexander. “It will ultimately cost taxpayers more in the long run."

The outstanding balance of unpaid child support in Allen County is more than $174 million. More than 5,800 parents owe more than $10,000. Thirty-three parents owe more than $100,000 each.

"Police have thousands and thousands of active warrants just in Allen County,” says Fort Wayne private investigator Steve Ringenberg. “And they just don’t, i don’t think they have the resources."

Ringenberg asked us not to show his face because he still works undercover.

We asked him to help us track down several parents with the largest outstanding child support balances in Allen County.

But either no one answered, or they weren’t there.

Ringenberg says it can take weeks or months to talk to relatives and neighbors or stake out a home to find a deadbeat. Time and resources Ringenberg says the county just doesn’t have.

"The plaintiff can’t find them,” says Ringenberg. “And finally they just give up, and that happens a lot."

So what happens if the county can find a parent, but they don’t want to pay?

“The goal isn’t necessarily to fill up the jail with this,” says McAlexander. “We’d rather people cooperate and pay voluntarily. but if they don’t, we will use all the tools in the toolbox."

A toolbox Sheriff Stoffel says is put to better use elsewhere.

“There’s a big frustration on our efforts and resources,” says Stoffel. “If we’re using a lot of our resources doing this, then we’re not using our resources doing some of the things that we should and could be doing."

“They brought them into the world,” says McAlexander. “And they should take care of them until they can take care of themselves."

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