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Sweep Nets 239 Parents Delinquent in Child Aid

Times Staff Writer

A weeklong crackdown on Los Angeles County parents who are delinquent in their child support payments concluded on Father’s Day, with the district attorney’s office having arrested more than half of 400 parents on whom criminal warrants were outstanding.

Furthermore, 15 temporary employees have been hired by the district attorney’s office to begin work today to cope with a flood of phone calls made in response to warning letters sent last week to 24,000 delinquent parents not yet subject to criminal charges.

“People are calling in afraid,” said Cheryl J. Ward Smith, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner’s special assistant for family support. “We have stricken fear in the hearts of the people who are (delinquent).”

Payments on the Rise

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By week’s end, about 6,000 parents--each in arrears of $500 or more--had already made phone contact with authorities, Smith said. Although she could not supply specific figures, she added that support payments had significantly increased above their normal level during the last week.

Prosecutions of parents still delinquent are scheduled to begin July 1.

Those arrested last week by the office’s 21 two-person investigation teams come from varied walks of life--engineers to bartenders, truck drivers to county employees. At least 24 delinquents who have moved from Los Angeles County were arrested elsewhere in the state. Two of those arrested were women--both in Oakland--who had repeatedly failed to supply support after leaving their children and husbands in Los Angeles.

The roundup failed to quell a lingering dispute concerning child support tactics between Reiner and feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who led an April sit-in of feminists in Reiner’s office in an unsuccessful effort to meet face-to-face with the district attorney on the issue.

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‘Half-Hearted’ Effort

The crackdown, Allred charged Sunday, “is half-hearted and it does not go far enough.”

“I always support any efforts to help collect child support including these,” the Los Angeles attorney said. "(But) I don’t think we should be fooled or deceived into thinking this will take care of the problem. At least two key parts to a successful program are education and enforcement.”

Beginning this week, six California counties will take part in an alternate state-approved amnesty test program that had been suggested by Allred. Under Project Amnesty, violators will not be prosecuted if they make arrangements to pay their arrears between now and Aug. 16. The program is being implemented in Orange, Riverside, Ventura, Kern, Santa Cruz and Sacramento counties.

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Last month, Reiner had termed amnesty “not practicable” because it would involve treading on the judiciary system, by in effect telling police officers to ignore enforcement of court-issued warrants.

Smith said Friday that the roundup has proven a stronger deterrent anyway.

“Amnesty implies do nothing and what we’re doing is telling people that they cannot do nothing with these child support orders that they have,” she said. “We’re telling people that just as they attend to telephone bills, they better attend to child support obligations.”

Another sweep is planned for later this year, Smith said.

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Both sides agree that problems concerning child support are receiving increased visibility and that efforts to curb delinquency--estimated by state officials at more than $850 million throughout California--are intensifying.

Reiner’s teams worked 10 to 14 hours a day last week to pursue people with outstanding warrants. By mid-afternoon Sunday, 239 delinquent parents had been detained. The district attorney’s office traditionally conducts a Father’s Day sweep--but with eight teams in 1984 compared to 21 last week. Only 96 people were arrested last year.

In addition to the arrests and phone calls, Smith said, at least 700 parents showed up in person at the district attorney’s offices responding to Reiner’s warning letter.

One delinquent dad brought $2,000 in cash--and he told authorities he had been so scared of arrest that he had stayed away from his home all week.

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But not all delinquents have proven cooperative.

At a court appearance Friday, a 36-year-old Long Beach man who was divorced 10 years ago was ordered to spend weekends in the county jail for one year.

When the man, who owes $25,000 in back payments for his two children, was divorced, he had handed his wife a $10 bill and told her “he’d rather go to jail (than pay anything more),” Smith said.

“His wish finally came true.”

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