A return trip back to Los Angeles turned out to be quite an expensive one for a passenger who arrived at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday, June 18th, after being forced to pay $311,491, in delinquent child support payments.
On his way back to the United States from China, during a stopover in Hong Kong, it was discovered that the passenger, whose name has not been released, owed a substantial amount in child support to an ex-wife and his 12-year-old daughter in Los Angeles, said David Sommers, press deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.
“He was flagged in Hong Kong on his way back to Los Angeles, and [Chinese airport officials] would not allow him to fly back until he paid the back child support,” said Sommers.
Hong Kong officials discovered that the traveler owed the money by checking his passport number, which revealed that he owed back child support payments.
The man then wrote a check for the full amount, which was then wired to Los Angeles Child Support Services office in West Covina.
“There had to be confirmation that his ex-spouse received the wire before he was allowed to return to Los Angeles,” said Sommers.
The figure is the highest sum in the nation’s history that has been collected through the Federal Passport Interceptor Program, according to Kenneth Wolfe, director of the U.S. Department of Children and Families.
The Federal Passport Interceptor Program, which is part of the Federal Offset Program, is designed to help states enforce delinquent child support obligations. Under the existing guidelines, the names of “non-custodial parents” certified by a state as having back payments due in excess of $2,500 are submitted by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to the Department of State (DOS), which denies them U.S. passports upon application, or the use of a passport service.
“The Passport Interceptor program is a great tool that can help local child support agencies enforce these orders,” said Al Reyes, director of communications of the Los Angeles Child Support Services Department.
A staff attorney from the Child Support Services Department’s West Covina division handled settlement talks with the attorney of the traveler — who is the non-custodial parent — while staff members of the division conducted an audit to determine the exact amount that was owed.
The non-custodial parent sent two payments totaling $311,491 — including $305,576 to cover the back payments and a $5,915 monthly child support payment for July.
“I would like to thank our staff for the outstanding work on this case,” Child Support Services Department director Steven Golightly said. “We are proud of the large amount and the record, but we are just as committed to collecting support for all the families and children who have cases with us, no matter the amount owed.
“Enriching the lives of children and families is our mission and we will continue to work hard to ensure that all of the children in our caseload receive the support to which they are entitled.”
Since 2002, all airlines are required to electronically transmit their passenger manifests from both domestic and international flights to the United States Department of Customs and Border Protection, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, says Mike Fleming, public affairs officer for the Customs and Border Protection Los Angeles field office (CPB).
“CBP requires that all ports of entry, including airlines, electronically transmit their manifests to us for the sole purpose of the protection of the county,” Fleming explained. “We also have a database that can check a variety of law enforcement agencies, and if a passenger has an outstanding warrant, that would be a red flag.”
“This is one way that we can catch people who have outstanding warrants on traffic or parking tickets, or in this case, are delinquent fathers,” added Nancy Castle, a LAX spokeswoman.
Customs and Border Protection has the authority to fine airlines that do not comply with the federal government’s mandate of transmitting the passenger lists to his department, said Fleming.
Last week, Knabe backed the appropriation of $500,000 to the district attorney’s office to assist in the collection and enforcement of deadbeat parents.
“Those funds are used to hire retired district attorney’s investigators to track down these individuals who are the worst offenders,” Sommers explained. “There are people who go to great lengths to hide their assets and evade the authorities, and they are usually the biggest and the worst offenders.”
According to Knabe’s office, Los Angeles County has collected nearly $500 million on behalf of 400,000 constituents.
The district attorney’s office handled enforcement and collection on derelict parents until 2002, when the county assumed those duties.
This is the third time in four years that the Child Support Services Department in Los Angeles county has registered three of the largest single child support collections in the United States. The department recovered $298,000 in a case in 2003 and $300,000 in 2004. Both cases involved non-custodial parents who were denied passports for non-payment of their child support obligations.
Although the sum paid last week was the highest payment recorded through the federal program, higher amounts have been collected through more traditional methods. In November 2006, two families in Virginia and one in Colorado received a total of $381,750 from one parent.
“We don’t always have collections this size, but instances like this happen from time to time, where we can collect $25,000 to $30,000,” Reyes said.
“Rigorous enforcement of child support orders works,” said Sommers recently. “For every dollar that we spend on enforcement, we see a return of two in collections that are passed directly to the families.”