|LA County Dist. Attorney Corruption|
Suit Filed Against Garcetti - Children and parents are deprived of $25 million
LA Times - April 1999 - LA Child Support Ranks Last in the State
LA Times - May 1999 - Taxpayers may have to pay up to $4.3 Billion in penalties
LA Times - Sept 1999 - Judge rules that this case cannot be dismissed.
The real problem here is that many schemes exist throughout the country spending billions of dollars trying to collect child support payments from dislocated parents. In almost all cases, the cost of this collection effort exceeds the payments collected - by magnitudes! Not only are the kids not getting the support they deserve, but the opportunity for corruption is so wide open that even the money collected never reaches the children or the parents that are trying to support them.
The LA County case was started by a parent, John Silva, paying support but finding out that the money was not reaching the other parent. His payments weren't even credited to him! A request to his bank produced copies of the checks showing they were deposited to the County, but not credited to Child Support payments in his account. In our investigations, Richard Fine was contacted, who has taken the case and is pressing to get the LA County Dist. Attorney to release these payments.
Counties all across the U.S. are using the same scheme to collect from so called "Deadbeat Dads", because the notion seems to be the right thing to do. Please believe us - since it is difficult to cross-check whether the money is reaching the other parent - the collection process is nothing more than a wide open opportunity for corruption.
Last month, Kathleen Parker, reported in the Orlando Sentinel that Florida spent $4.5 Million last year on Child Support Collection and collected a grand total of $162,000. The state hired two firms - Lockheed Martin, IMS and Maximus, Inc - to collect the money owed by Deadbeat Dads. Instead, these two firms pocketed $4.5 million and (supposedly) paid out $162,000 to the families that were needy. Read the Sentinel article.
This matter was brought to the attention of the LA County Board of Supervisors at their meeting on December 3, 1998 by the writer. Perhaps the suit will uncover where all this money is going!
The entire text of this suit has been provided here so that other individuals in other counties can see what it takes to get their funds moving in the right direction.
LOS ANGELES TIMES, Saturday, February 20, 1999
Suit Seeks D.A.'s Release of Child Support Funds
By GREG KRIKORIAN, NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Times Staff Writers
Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's child support office has illegally held millions of dollars owed to thousands of families, according to a lawsuit filed Friday that seeks to have the funds distributed immediately.
The lawsuit, filed by taxpayers advocate attorney Richard I. Fine, specifically targets funds that have been held--sometimes for years--by Garcetti's office, most often because it says it cannot locate the people entitled to the money.
"It isn't their money," Fine said of Garcetti's Bureau of Family Support Operations. "The money belongs to the parents." In recent years, the district attorney's office has held as much as $25 million. The amount has dropped to about $14.5 million, since The Times asked about the fund last summer.
Victoria Pipkin, Garcetti's spokeswoman, said that because the office had not seen the lawsuit, it could not respond to the allegations. She emphasized, however, that the office has been making strides in releasing the funds, noting that the $14.5 million it held as of Feb. 1 was $2.2 million less than on the first of the year.
But Fine's lawsuit contends that Garcetti has no authority under California law to hold the funds longer than six months and that if he is unable to locate the deserving families, he is obligated after that time to return the money to non-custodial parents--usually fathers. By illegally holding the money, Fine alleged, Garcetti's office collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest each year for the county.
"In the meantime, tragedies are occurring," Fine said. "Children are not being clothed and fed, families are losing their homes and being forced onto the streets and we, the taxpayers, are footing the bill."
Garcetti's office has acknowledged that it has held money in violation of the six-month requirement. "We had been," Pipkin said, "but that is no longer the case."
Garcetti's office also holds money, the lawsuit alleges, when there is a dispute between the office and a debtor parent about the amount of money owed or between the welfare office and a custodial parent about how the money should be distributed. Fine's lawsuit was filed on behalf of John Ray Silva, who says that he has met his child support obligations but the district attorney's office filed false documents to try to collect an additional $64,000 from him.
"He represents all of the problems that the district attorney has in child support," Fine said of Silva. "They overcharged him . . . they harassed him . . . [and] his ex-wife is on his side," Fine said, citing an October 1998 affidavit in which Suzette Silva says her husband owes her nothing.
Without addressing Silva's accusations, Garcetti's spokeswoman said the office does have an active case with Silva. The lawsuit represents the latest broadside against Garcetti's Bureau of Family Support Operations after a Times investigation last year. Among The Times' findings: Garcetti's office has held on to millions of dollars because it says it cannot locate the deserving families--families that, in several cases, The Times was able to locate using simple public records such as phone directories. The money sits in interest-bearing accounts that accrue to the district attorney's office. At the end of the year, the federal government deducts the interest earned before it reimburses the office for its child support activities.
After The Times inquired about the funds last summer, Garcetti held a news conference to announce an unprecedented effort to empty the accounts. Since then, the office has stepped up its efforts to return money to parents.
But even the reduced amount, Fine said, was secondary to the basic issue: that Garcetti's office is illegally holding funds that should be distributed. Moreover, Fine said, the district attorney pledged months ago to release the money as soon as possible. "If you knew five months ago you had $18 million, why haven't you gotten rid of it?" Fine asked. "And how many people had to starve through Christmas because Gil Garcetti didn't get his act together?"
Charline Bowersox went to the Los Angeles district attorney's office in the 1970s for help collecting child support but only found out in October 1998 that the office was holding her money. The office said it could not locate Bowersox, but a Times researcher found her in rural New Hampshire by checking phone directories. Even after her name and location were published five months ago, Bowersox did not get her money until last week, when she received a check. The sum: $146.
"They seem very reluctant to let go," Bowersox said. She said she believed the lawsuit was a good idea but wondered whether it would allow others to avoid her struggle. "I hope they don't [have to] but it looks to me that they're going to be in for some doing."
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Times, Friday, April 16, 1999
L.A Child-Support Office Ranks Last in State
Government: It's the 2nd year that Garcetti's unit has finished at the bottom of the Legislative Analyst's list.
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, Times Staff Writer
Despite Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti's insistence that his child support office is improving, it remains the least effective such operation in California, according to a new numbers from the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. This is the second year in a row the state has ranked its 58 child support units, charged with collecting money for families which are mostly on welfare. Once again Los Angeles comes in 58th in money collected per welfare case, even behind poorer counties such as Fresno.
Legal Aid attorney Jane Preece laughed when asked about the new ranking. "This is a surprise?" she asked following a meeting in which Garcetti's staff admitted that a lack of coordination between them and other agencies delays payments to families getting off welfare. "Their office is still mismanaged and misrun." The rankings rely on 1998 data and do not cover the period since a Times series seven months ago spurred the office to make several reforms and search for new leadership, but child support advocates remain skeptical of those initiatives and say they have seen little improvement in the daily workings of the unit.
"It'll be that way forever," said Sue Speir, who runs an agency that helps parents deal with the office.
The Legislative Analyst's report, released Tuesday, found that the regular explanations for poor performance--the size of the county or its poverty--actually have no effect on child support collections. Still, the district attorney's office Thursday contended that those factors do matter and are why it came in last. "Larger counties with huge welfare caseloads such as Los Angeles ... are the most difficult," said spokeswoman Victoria Pipkin.
The Legislative Analyst's office began ranking child support programs last year, after years of complaints that manipulation of numbers by local offices made it impossible to objectively determine their true performance.
Analysts avoided statistics most often touted by child support officials--the money collected--because it did not provide a full picture of the operation. Instead they compared the amount of money collected to the amount spent by the county on welfare, figures which could not be manipulated by district attorneys' offices. The prime determinant of the quality of a county's program, the report found, is the money it spends on child support. The top-ranking county, Alpine, spent nearly six times as much as Los Angeles per welfare case.
Pipkin said that is why Garcetti's office has hired more staff recently, after it left hundreds of positions vacant for years and used $6 million in money budgeted to child support to cover expenses by the criminal division.
Yet significant investments in a child support program is no guarantee of improvement, as Los Angeles' experience shows. The amount of money spent by the child support unit has skyrocketed over the past decade, but collections have not kept pace. The office last year collected $2.90 cents per dollar it spends on child support, virtually the same as in 1987, when it collected $2.87 per dollar spent.
Garcetti is seeking another $30 million for his child support unit in the coming year, which would bring its total cost to $150 million. "If you are not well-organized and you are not using your resources well, more dollars does not help," said Betty L. Nordwind, executive director of the Harriet Buhai Center for Family Law and chair of the county's Family Support Advisory Board.
Nordwind cited as an example the discussion on welfare families.
When a family is on welfare their child support money is sent to the state because they are already receiving public assistance. When the family is off welfare the child support money should come to them. But child support advocates for years have complained that when families go off welfare they do not get child support. After requesting reports for month,s the Family Support Advisory Board Thursday heard representatives of the district attorney's and welfare offices say that there often is a month's delay because the funds are shuttling between the two agencies.
"These people are managers," Nordwind said of the district attorney's officials, complaining that no one had taken action for years. "We're paying them in part to troubleshoot." California as a whole is considered one of the worst states in the nation for child support and the Legislative Analyst's report found that the performance of large counties like Los Angeles drag down the rest of the state.
It recommended two methods of improving the situation, both of which have been perennial suggestions. The first is to strip district attorneys of the power to collect child support and place it in a state agency, an option embraced by some Democratic leaders in the Legislature this year.
The second option is to change the state's arcane incentive funding structure to spur counties to spend more on child support. Since most child support money comes from the federal government, the report found, counties are reluctant to spend their own money. Also on Thursday, Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey (D-CA) and Congressman Henry Hyde (D-Illinois) released a bill to turn child support collections over to the Internal Revenue Service, saying that the nationwide child support system has failed because it only collects money for one-fifth of its cases.
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1999
Huge Penalty Looms in Child Support Snafu
Government: Failure to create one overall computer system could cost state $4.3 billion in welfare funds, federal officials warn.
By NICHOLAS RICCARDI, GREG KRIKORIAN, Times Staff Writers
California's chronic failure to create a statewide computer system for child support payments may take a staggering toll on its treasury, with federal officials warning they may impose up to $4.3 billion in new penalties, officials confirmed Thursday.
The potential fines arise from the lack of a federally mandated computer system for which the state already faces cumulative penalties of up to $400 million.
In recent days, federal officials have told the state that California also faces the loss of funds for its welfare program because it does not have a federally required single system for distributing child support collected for low-income families. Instead, that money is disbursed by county district attorneys, who have long resisted efforts to make them relinquish the child support program.
"It is an absolutely staggering, indeed crippling, amount [in penalties]," state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said Thursday by phone from Washington, D.C., where he and other legislators were meeting with federal officials to demonstrate their resolve to reform California's child support system.
"If the prior penalties were a hammer," Schiff said, "this is a death-delivering club."
Although there are several steps to be taken before any penalties are actually imposed, the federal government is sending an clear message that it is prepared to imposed substanial fines if the state does not eventually comply.
The state has several options. It can appeal the federal findings within 60 days, or simply let the Health and Human Services decision stand, which would trigger an automatic reconsideration by Washington.
Said Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley): "The feds are sending us another signal: . . . 'Get your house in order and do it quickly.' "
Although the letter to the state from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was dated last Friday, Schiff said he and some other lawmakers only learned of the potential fines this week when they were in Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials on a variety of legislative issues including reform of the child support system.
On Tuesday, Schiff, Aroner and others discussed the potential fines during meetings that included a session with Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.
During that meeting, officials said, Shalala made it clear the agency still has some long-held concerns about California's child support program, specifically concerning its lack of a single computer system which was mandated years ago by Congress. Facing some $400 million in penalties, state officials have been addressing the lack of a single computer system with increasing haste. Gov. Gray Davis so far has maintained that the counties should be responsible for the fines because they--not the state--are responsible for delays.
Now the stakes have increased considerably, with the federal government warning that California's failure to implement a so-called State Disbursement Unit for welfare-related child support cases puts the entire $4.3 billion in welfare funding at risk.
"It's unfathomable," Aroner said of the level of potential penalties. "You sit there and say it's ridiculous, it'll never happen, but people are looking at a Congress that would be happy to take money away."
Anita Gore, spokeswoman for the state Health and Human Services Agency, said, "Certainly, we are taking it very seriously.We do believe that we can work with the federal government on this to reach an agreement."
State sources are hoping they will be able to avoid the penalties through negotiations and increased work on child support reform, and officials in Washington said Thursday that they are keeping their doors open.
"We're doing everything we can to work with the state," said one Health and Human Services spokeswoman. "The most important thing is to keep the money coming to the kids. That's the reason for the law in the first place."
Several state officials said they believe they are making the case in Washington that California is ready to reform its child support system, the nation's largest and, by many accounts, its worst. Schiff, for example, said he believes Shalala was impressed with the resolve of California lawmakers to take dramatic steps on child support.
"We made it clear to her we are aggressively moving toward one computer system, that we are taking unprecedented action toward elevating the status of child support in the state, creating a new department andtaking the program away from the district attorneys over time," said Schiff, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Still, he and others were not discounting the possibility that the federal government, weary of California's excuses, will impose penalties.
"We have just begun the process of appeals and I think we have a good strong start at it," said Schiff. "But I am not willing to take any breaths yet."
Longtime child support advocates said Thursday that the latest threatened penalty only underscores how state officials have believed, mistakenly, that they could skirt federal regulations indefinitely.
"The state, driven by the counties that wanted to operate just as they had been, figured they could just continue on without penalties," said Leora Gershenzon of the National Center for Youth Law.
Added Nora O'Brien, state director of the Assn. for Children for Enforcement of Support: "Once again, children will suffer because of the failure of the system."
"Failure to Provide," a series of stories from last fall on the dysfunctional state of Los Angeles County's child-support system is available on The Times' Web site: http://www.latimes.com/support
Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved
Los Angeles Times, Thursday,
September 30, 1999
The Local Review / DEVELOPMENTS IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY
D.A. Fails to Get Suit on Child Support Dismissed
LOS ANGELES--A Municipal Court judge on Wednesday allowed a taxpayer lawsuit against the Los Angeles County district attorney's child support unit to proceed
Judge S. Patricia Spear did not grant the demurrer sought by county attorneys, which would have ended the lawsuit that seeks to compel the office to release child support money it has collected but says it cannot distribute.
The office has held as much as $25 million in an interest-bearing account, sometimes in violation of state law. But county officials say the amount has been reduced to about $10 million and that they are trying to distribute the funds.
The lawsuit, by taxpayer attorney Richard Fine, alleges that the office has no right to hold the money and should return it.
County lawyers were successful in getting an earlier version of the suit dismissed on technical grounds, but Fine amended it to meet the county's objections and refiled.
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Last update 5/8/99