Sheriff's bait lures 28 parents into Arundel jail Targets missed support payments

December 11, 1992|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County sheriff's deputies lured more than tw dozen parents who have "Scrooged" their children out of support to the courthouse yesterday with the promise of a Christmas windfall.

But instead of a check, 28 delinquent parents got handcuffs and a trip to the County Detention Center for nonpayment of child support, said Lt. Chuck Nelson of the sheriff's department.

"These people have been like Scrooge to their kids," he said. "It's like taking their candy canes away at Christmas."

"Operation Scrooge" -- the reference is to the fictional miser in Dickens' "Christmas Carol" -- began Nov. 19 when deputies mailed letters to 503 delinquent parents, promising them a $2,314 payment from a class action suit.

The letter, from the fictitious Department of Judicial Audit, Division of Civil Rights Reimbursement, told the parents that they could pick up their checks at the Anne Arundel County Courthouse Dec. 8, 9 and 10, Lieutenant Nelson said.

Tuesday, the fugitives began filing in for their "free" money. Once inside the courthouse, they were taken to a room where one deputy put handcuffs on their wrists while another broke the news to them.

"Their jaws just dropped," Lieutenant Nelson said. "Some of them laughed and said they knew it was too good to be true."

Lieutenant Nelson said that the department used the windfall tactic "as a joke," but one fugitive took it so seriously that he drove more than 250 miles from the Virginia-North Carolina border to claim the money.

The lieutenant said deputies set up a telephone line that they answered "Judicial Audit," when recipients of the letters called with questions.

"Several people called with rather pointed questions," Lieutenant Nelson recalled. "They were asking about the suit and if someone else could pick up the money for them. We told them there was a federal gag on information and [that we] could not answer those questions over the phone. We just played dumb."

Lieutenant Nelson said that the parents could get out of jail by paying their debts, or they could request a hearing before a judge.

Lieutenant Nelson said that one father was more than $20,000 in arrears.

"We are elated that we caught 28," he said. "Out of the 503, 120 of the letters were returned to us by the postmaster as undeliverable."

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