Two south Georgians are accused of stealing money meant for children. A Lowndes County man is in federal custody. And a woman has two weeks to turn herself in after a federal indictment charged them with setting up fake businesses to collect child support payments.
Mark and Stephanie Simpson of Lake Park, and Stuart Cole of St. Pete Beach, Florida have been indicted by a grand jury, accused of setting up fraudulent businesses to collect child support payments from non-custodial parents.
It was an elaborate scheme that took place between 2007 and 2009. Officials say the trio used a combination of threats, intimidation, and misrepresentation to get parents to use their services.
"The support is for the children, and the children lose," said attorney Guy Terry, who specializes in Child Support law. He says this is the first time he's ever heard of a fraudulent business set up as a service to provide child support payments.
"The effort they had to go through is impressive. Because they would have had to do all of the leg work to find out who these people were, where do they live, how much is supposed to be paid. It really shows a pretty big scheme here," said Terry.
The business operated under names including Child Support Services of Atlanta, and McCoy and Associates. The victims would pay outrageous fees for their payment services. In all the trio got away with more than $600,000.
Experts say you should avoid using private businesses to make your child support payments. Always go through state agencies, like the Division of Child Support Services in Lowndes County.
"Once the order is obtained then you move forward with paying it through the clerk of court. That gives the parent who's paying the support a record that they can come in if challenged later that this is what I've paid, here's proof," said Terry.
Of course Terry's best advice is to have a private lawyer handle your child support business.
The indictments include mail fraud, wire fraud, extortion, money laundering, and obstruction of justice.
A grand jury has indicted three people they say were in business to defraud victims by convincing them to pay child support payments.
Stuart C. Cole, 58, of St Pete Beach, Florida, Mark C. Simpson, 50, of Lake Park, Georgia, and Stephanie M. Simpson, 30, of Lake Park, Georgia have been indicted.
The indictments include Mail Fraud, Wire Fraud, Extortion, Money Laundering, and Obstruction of Justice.
Officials say they were engaged in a private business that collects child support payments from non-custodial parents. These parents included those under a court order to pay child support as well as those without a court order.
The business operated under the names of Child Support Services of Atlanta, Child Support Services, and McCoy & Associates.
The indictment details those who ran the business used a combination of threats, intimidation, and misrepresentation to get their way.
Officials say the scheme ran from 2007 to 2009.
Those involved in the scheme used public telephone and Internet records to obtain names of people who were in a circumstance of child support, then contacted them about the false services they wanted to provide.
The business was set up as a service to provide child support payments.
The defendants would recruit custodial parents who were set to receive payments, and fooled them into applying for the services they offered.
Then They would then enter into an "agreement" with the victims for services, and charge significant fees.
The victims of the scheme who were to pay "child support" were directed by agents in the fake business to make payments of different amounts to the address closest to their city and state.
Most of the addresses were located in the capital city of the relevant state, backing up the false claims that the business was affiliated with the state's agency.
But these addresses were simply set up with forwarding instructions to send all mail to the main business location in Lake Park in Lowndes County, GA.
Court documents show the business made phone calls, sent mail, and searched court records to gain the business of custodial parents.
The defendants created telephone numbers with local area codes of the victims to give the appearance that the business was also local.
They further misled consumers by publishing in directory services that they had multiple locations, and paying search engine providers like Google in order to appear at the top of search results when the phrase "child support" was used. This was all done so the business appeared to be affiliated with area state-run child support agencies.
Records show early contracts under the business did not distinguish the company as any different from state-run child support services, and misled victims into thinking they were dealing with a government agency.
That later changed when the business changed the contracts to show they were a private business, but directly affiliated with the state.
While trying to misrepresent their business as a local entity within a state, employees told a North Carolina resident on different occasions that the office was in Columbia, South Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama.
The defendants took their scheme further by tricking custodial parents and non-custodial parents that were already in valid state court ordered child support plans to terminate their affiliation with the State.
Non-custodial parents were then harassed and threatened by telephone, fax, and mail with arrest warrants, licence suspensions and wage garnishments from the defendants, to coerce them into entering into collection contracts.
Court documents show the notices sent to non-custodial parents looked very similar to an official court summons, while completely unauthorized.
Once under contract, collection agreements were sent to non-custodial parents' employers, and made to look like official wage garnishments, causing employers to illegally garnish wages and remit the funds to the defendants.
The defendants also sent notices of "case reviews" that appeared to be hearing notices calling for non-custodial parents to show up at addresses for businesses, but were actually commercial mailing centers.
One of the accused opened 17 post office boxes throughout the U.S. in the business name of CSS to further their deception, while forwarding all correspondence, including payments to the defendants' primary place of business in Lake Park.
Documents show the defendants were able to coerce more than $600,000 from victims in the case.
If the defendants are convicted, they face decades in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.