• Agency Culpable in Child Support Scam

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    Last
    week, Viola
    Trevino
    carried her 5-year-old “daughter” into an Albuquerque
    court to satisfy a judge’s demand to produce the child.

    Complications
    arose.

    One:
    Trevino had
    kidnapped
    the child moments before to pass off as her daughter.
    Two: the “real” daughter never existed. Three: the “father” and
    ex-husband Steve Barreras had paid $20,000 in child support. Four:
    the system finally noticed Trevino was lying.

    New
    Mexico Gov. Bill
    Richardson
    has asked the state’s Human Services Department for
    a full report.

    Specifically,
    he wants to know how several government agencies became not only
    unwitting partners in the fraud, but also resisted efforts to correct
    it.

    Richardson
    deserves a tip of the hat for taking responsibility. The official
    response to child support or welfare debacles is usually silence.

    Sometimes
    a finger of accusation is pointed at specific individuals as though
    the abuse resulted from a few “bad apples” in an otherwise clean
    barrel. Richardson is acknowledging there is a problem with the
    system itself.

    The
    system is broken. In recent years, heartbreaking stories from every
    state have flooded the media. Often they focus on the plight of
    children who are abused or neglected by those assigned to protect
    them. But just as often they highlight the abuse of parents – especially
    non-custodial fathers – who are processed as paperwork, not people.

    With
    Trevino, several government agencies processed papers. Trevino falsified
    a paternity test
    by using a sample from an adult daughter who
    is Barreras’ child and then had a family friend process it at the
    lab. On the basis of the test, Trevino obtained a court order for
    child support.

    Trevino
    also obtained a Social
    Security card
    , a Medicare card and a birth certificate for the
    “daughter.”

    When
    a fraud is so blatant, there is a tendency to blame the victim for
    somehow facilitating his or her own victimhood. But Barreras, who
    works as a corrections officer in law enforcement, attempted repeatedly
    to expose the fraud and to protect himself.

    His
    petition for a restraining
    order
    was denied. Evidence that his vasectomy, conducted a year
    prior to the child’s “birth,” had left him with a zero sperm count,
    was ignored. Phoning and writing to New Mexico’s child support agency
    to have them verify his daughter’s non-existence resulted in a letter.
    The child enforcement worker stated, “your daughter does exist,
    as I am sure you already knew.”

    Barreras
    went so far as to hire a
    private investigator
    to expose the scam. Indeed, without his
    persistent refusal to be victimized, the fraud would have probably
    never come to light. It would have remained just one more injustice
    tucked away and protected by the system’s closed file.

    Richard
    Farr of the family-oriented KRightsRadio has spearheaded an investigation
    of the matter. [For an interview on this topic with Barreras’ second
    wife, click
    here
    .] Farr calls the case “an egregious example of an overzealous
    child support agency who apparently ignored the alleged father’s
    repeated cries … Unfortunately, too many child support agencies
    are virtually accountable to no one.”

    Reports
    from an investigative journalist at KOBTV, Albuquerque, finally
    brought enough pressure to bear that Trevino was ordered to produce
    the child in court. On the day of her hearing, Trevino went to a
    mall, where she convinced a grandmother and her 2-year-old granddaughter
    that they should all go to see Santa Claus. Instead, Trevino took
    them to the courthouse, snatched the girl, and tried to pass her
    off as the missing daughter.

    The
    panicked grandmother could not keep up with Trevino and got left
    behind in the parking lot. She stated: “I thought I was never going
    to see my baby girl again. It’s the scariest thing.”

    Richardson’s
    question keeps rising: how could this happen?

    A
    partial explanation is that the child welfare system seems to automatically
    favor the claims of custodial mothers over non-custodial fathers.

    Consider
    one scenario. A custodial mother swears under oath to have given
    birth and perhaps provides false documents. In many states, if she
    also swears that the absent father is violent, her statement can
    result in a restraining order that de facto terminates the father’s
    visitation rights. If a subsequent order to pay child support is
    delivered to an invalid address, which is often provided by the
    mother, then the father may not respond within the window of time
    provided for a protest. Now he must pay, go to jail or endure a
    process similar to the one Barreras suffered.

    But
    why did the child support enforcement system not follow up despite
    complaints? Farr suggests an answer: “[S]ome officials see child
    support agencies as revenue-generating agencies. States make money
    off the collection of child support while the taxpayers lose money
    at the federal level overall. Too often, this money-mindedness does
    not give incentives for agencies to do the right thing for children
    and families.”

    The
    stakes are higher than money, however. If Barreras had fallen behind
    in support payments, he would have been sent to jail. His life might
    have been destroyed.

    Barreras
    is reportedly suing to recover the $20,000. There is some indication
    he may also sue other individuals who “perpetuated” the fraud. According
    to Barreras’ attorney: “the parties that were involved in this fraud
    will be sought. We’ve played defense. Now, it’s time to play offense.”

    It’s
    about time.

    January
    6, 2005

    Wendy
    McElroy [send her mail]
    is the editor of ifeminists.com
    and a research fellow for The
    Independent Institute
    in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
    editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
    for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

    (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

    Wendy
    McElroy Archives

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