The children don't know Dad's in jail, charged with owing them more than $12,000. And one thing George C. Smith III and his ex-wife agreeon is that the kids shouldn't know he's there -- and that she helpedput him there.
"I don't think it would be very good for them to know their father's in jail, and their mother is partly to blame," Smith said yesterday during a phone interview from the county detention center.
While his ex-wife said she has had to work seven days a week to support their children, Smith said he hasn't been able to find a job that pays him enough to pay his court-ordered $85 a week in support.
"I can't pay right this moment -- I've got zero money, and I'm in jail," Smith said.
"Get me work release, and I'll do whatever I'm supposed to," he said. "But in the past seven or eight years, I can't find anything that will pay me any money. My wife makes three times what I make."
Smith was extradited to Carroll County Sunday from Tampa, Fla., where he was arrested on charges of non-payment of more than $12,000 in child support.
Smith's ex-wife is a licensed practical nurse living in South Carroll with her two children, an 11-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy. She is remarried.
She agreed to be interviewed if her name would not be used.
"I have to protect my children, and I'm involved in a lot of their activities," she said. "I don't think it's necessary for them to know he's in jail or why he's there."
Although she said she has been frustrated with her ex-husband's non-payment and the inability of law enforcement agencies to find him, she doesn't want her children to know that.
"I think it's important the kids don't get a bad outlook on what their father's like," she said.
"They adore their father," she said. The last time hevisited them three years ago, "He took them out to eat and they had a good time."
She said the children talked with Smith when he called at Christmas and again last month, shortly before he was found andarrested. Although she didn't know where he was, she resisted havingthe children ask him.
"I definitely don't want to put the kids inthe middle," she said.
Smith said he has always called the children on holidays and their birthdays.
He said he moved to Florida "some time" ago to be nearer his parents, who live near Sarasota and are over 60.
He said he was doing part-time janitorial work in Florida, making about $5 an hour.
"I could get the money any time I want -- all I have to do is sell drugs," he said.
Said his ex-wife, "I guess he feels he doesn't make enough money to pay. He's never beena really responsible person."
During their seven-year marriage, she was the primary breadwinner, she said.
She has been an LPN for 14 years and makes about $23,000 a year.
She has never had to go on public assistance, she said, but she and the children have had a rough time financially.
"We had to do without a lot -- just live with the basics and work a lot of hours," she said.
While she worked 56 hours a week, she said, she often relied on her family to provide child care and help pay for Christmas presents and school supplies.
She said she was surprised her former husband was found in Florida -- she thought he was still in Baltimore -- and especially surprised they extradited him.
"I want people to know it does work," she said of the child-support enforcement team in the county, which includesthe Department of Social Services, the Sheriff's Department and the State's Attorney's Office.
"It might take a long time for this system to work, but it does," she said.
Smith said he was surprised, also, to find a reporter and photographer waiting when his plane arrived Sunday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Anne Arundel County.
At the time, he refused to answer a series of questions and commented only that he wouldn't pay, as two county sheriff's deputies escorted him -- handcuffed -- to a car.
Smith had no jacket, coming from Florida, and was dressed in paint-splattered blue jeansand a flannel shirt.
He later agreed to the phone interview from jail.
Putting her husband behind bars wasn't as important as getting him to pay, his ex-wife said.
She also is hoping he will be able to be on a work-release program that will generate income that willbe collected for the children, and which she will use toward their education, she said.
She said she has had to stand firm to get Smith back before a Carroll County court.
To get him on the state's 10-most-wanted list of non-paying parents, she had to agree to some degree of publicity.
She said Smith's girlfriend called her several weeks ago and said she would try to get Smith to pay the support if she withdrew the arrest warrant.
"He hasn't paid all these years, what would make him start now?" she said, unless he was forced to do so.
When state officials notified her that Smith was in Florida awaiting extradition, they implied they didn't want to spend the money toextradite him unless she was willing to continue pressing charges.
She assured them she was.
"I just hope they make him pay (the money)," she said. "If he's done something that's against the law, he should have to pay the consequences. If that means jail, it means jail."