In Sweep For 'Deadbeat Dads,' 450 Held Suspects In The Statewide Raid Owed More Than $5.5 Million In Late Support. They Included 29 Women.

Posted: April 19, 1995

Lt. Robert Furth rapped sharply on the door of the two-story colonial. Patrolman Gene DiFilippo watched the side and rear of the house from behind a bush.

Minutes passed.

After another series of knocks, the dining room light finally came on.

A bewildered man came to the door, barefoot and shirtless, wearing sweatpants and blinking at the still-dark sky.

It was 5:30 in the morning, and the Edgewater Park police had come to arrest John Salvatico - a man who, according to probation officers, owes nearly $12,000 to his ex-wife for child support. Salvatico was emphatic he had paid his wife directly, but that didn't save him a few hours behind bars.

His was just one of 450 arrests made across New Jersey yesterday, as part of a statewide effort to round up those who are behind in their support payments.

In 17 of the state's 21 counties, sheriff's officers and local police went after more than 1,700 people sometimes labeled "deadbeat dads" - though officials are quick to point out that about 10 percent of people paying child support are women.

The 450 arrested, of whom 29 were women, owed more than $5.5 million to their former spouses, or in some cases, relatives who are taking care of their children, according to Cumberland County Sheriff James Forcinito, whose office coordinated the effort. (The rest of the 1,700 either weren't home, had moved or might be reached later in the week.)

In Burlington County, sheriff's officers and local police arrested 30 people, including two women, who were accused of not paying a total of more than $112,000. Five were still in jail yesterday afternoon, hoping to scrounge up some cash so they could make a down payment.

In Camden County, 65 were arrested, including two women, owing a total of $613,000. One man, Troy Drummond of Camden, owed $75,000, Sheriff Michael W. McLaughlin said. In Gloucester County, 26 were arrested, owing $32,000, Sheriff Chuck Gill said.

*

Standing in his front foyer, Salvatico, 43, told police he had paid his wife "just the other day."

"Where's the receipt?" they wanted to know.

After several minutes of searching, Salvatico said he couldn't find it. The officers then let him go to the bathroom but made him leave the door open so he wouldn't try to escape.

Salvatico, a building subcontractor whose payments support children ages 7 and 11, was then led across the well-manicured yard and into the waiting police car.

As the morning wore on, he and dozens of others were then gathered up in the county "war wagon" - a special blue truck for transporting prisoners.

Shortly before 9 a.m., it was time for the first 10 Burlington County defendants to appear before Superior Court Judge Jan M. Schlesinger.

The excuses were all over the map: I paid my ex-wife directly, but I can't find the receipt. I recently got laid off. Nobody told me I owed any money. I've had a drug problem. The kid turned 18.

For the most part, the judge wasn't buying them.

"I'm 40 percent disabled," James Anderson, 41, of Mount Holly told the judge. "Nobody seems to understand that. I got bad shoulders. I got bad feet."

"Couldn't you work a couple of hours a week, maybe at a 7-Eleven?" Schlesinger responded sternly. "Your children need to eat."

Another man, James Fleming of Moorestown, owed $7,700, a probation officer said. But he told the judge he had receipts showing he had made several recent support payments.

"I don't have the receipts with me," said Fleming, a 36-year-old waiter, his hair still askew from his early-morning wakeup call. "I mean, I got woken up at 5:30 in the morning." The judge ordered him to pay up.

Salvatico testified that he had been paying $150 a week directly to his ex- wife, rather than to a probation officer - an arrangement the judge said was not allowed. Salvatico said he had not received any notice of being behind on his payments, in part because he was living in Pennsylvania until recently.

"I have not gotten anything at all," he said. Upon hearing his protests, Schlesinger let Salvatico off easier than most. He scheduled a May 16 conference so that Salvatico's ex-wife could be present to discuss the matter further.

Annually, the New Jersey court system collects about $500 million in child support on its 275,000 cases, and more than 60 percent of them pay without legal prompting. In another 20 percent, the parent pays up after being summoned to court. But in less than a fifth of the cases, court officials decide to take stronger action.

The statewide raids take place just once or twice a year, but that doesn't mean those behind on support payments aren't arrested during the remainder of the year. In a typical week in Burlington County, for example, about 20 people either are arrested or turn themselves in.

The aim of the statewide sweep is to send a clear message. In the days following such a raid, the publicity leads many more people to turn themselves in, either out of guilt or fear of being arrested, officials say.

"There's a ripple effect throughout the community," said Carol Bishop, supervisor of Burlington County's support enforcement unit.

Usually, the courts don't collect much money on the day of a raid. Judges will typically allow defendants to make some sort of down payment, or they may schedule a conference with both parties in the event of a dispute. Repeat offenders are held in jail until they come up with some money.

Officials admit that even with all the arrests yesterday, many offenders will soon fall behind again, and other new cases will follow. But ultimately, persistence pays, said Investigator James Thompson, who coordinated the Burlington County effort. The raid will continue, he said.

"You just gotta keep on going," Thompson said. By midday, officials had collected only about $1,000 in Burlington County payments, and about $64,000 statewide. But even that is a start, Thompson said.

"It makes us feel like, yeah, it was worth getting up at 4 o'clock in the morning," he said.

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