The man dubbed Ventura County's top-ranked deadbeat parent was sentenced Wednesday to a year in jail by a judge who said he wanted to send a message on the tough consequences facing those who ignore child-support obligations.
Larry Lee Roberts, who owes $237,000 in support payments and interest for his children and ex-wife in Thousand Oaks, will be confined to Ventura County Jail until October. He has been in the jail since his arrest in early February.
Roberts, who had eluded authorities since 1987, was tracked through Arizona and Nevada before being taken into custody in the Denver area.
At his sentencing Wednesday, acting Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark denied a defense plea to sentence the 46-year-old defendant to probation.
By sentencing Roberts to jail, the criminal courts lose any power to force him to pay, Clark said. That is because once Roberts serves his jail time, he cannot be arrested in connection with his past-due account.
Still, the judge said Roberts needs to be punished for his crime and the public needs to know that the courts are serious about parents who neglect their duty to their children.
"The message that needs to be sent is that fathers who abandon their children and don't pay child support will go to jail," Clark declared.
Roberts owes $133,000 in child-support payments and another $13,000 in spousal-support payments. Once interest is factored into those amounts, his bill totals $237,260, authorities said.
Under court order, Roberts is required to pay $800 a month to his four children and $500 a month to his ex-wife, Maria Roberts. For a time, she had to depend on welfare to care for the children, but eventually was able to get a job and provide for them, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kevin D. Farrell said.
Farrell scoffed at the notion that Roberts, if given probation, would have started paying his debt--a statement with which the judge agreed.
"He demonstrated the last 10 years that he would rather hide than meet his obligation," Farrell said outside court.
Alluding to the jail sentence, Farrell added, "It's the only thing the court could do." Although Roberts was sentenced to a year in jail, he will actually serve eight months with time off for good behavior.
Roberts had pleaded guilty to failure to pay child support last month. His attorney maintained that Roberts never intended to neglect his children.
In a letter to the judge, Roberts agreed.
The letter gave his explanation on how he wound up as the county's No. 1 deadbeat parent--a label given to him in an 11-by-14-inch wanted poster issued by the district attorney's office. Roberts was one of 12 parents depicted on the poster, which was distributed countywide.
Roberts and his ex-wife divorced in 1982, court records show. Roberts had held a number of jobs, including work as a military intelligence officer, a police officer in Kern County and as a finance manager for an auto dealership after the couple's split.
Initially, Roberts was ordered to pay $300 a month in support for his wife and their children, now aged 14 through 18. Roberts, in his letter, told the judge that he lost that job about the same time a court raised his monthly obligation to $1,300.
Eventually, as the debt mounted, Roberts went on the lam, moving to Arizona then to Nevada and eventually to Colorado.
"Because I remained unemployed for quite a lengthy period, the amount of back support became a staggering amount, and I became scared and unsure of what to do," he wrote. "Consequently, I made the worst possible choice. I broke contact with my ex-wife and children in 1990."
He said he plans to get the payments lowered and start paying once he is free again. According to Roberts, he wants to become "the kind of father I should have been all along."
Roberts said he plans to go back to a delivery job in Denver that pays $150 to $250 a week.