Sweep targets alleged Montco deadbeats

Montgomery County sheriff's deputies surround and enter a house looking for a parent behind on child support. They didn't arrest anyone here.
Montgomery County sheriff's deputies surround and enter a house looking for a parent behind on child support. They didn't arrest anyone here. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 14, 2013

Mark Huzzard knocked on the door of the Hatfield trailer around 3 a.m. Tuesday.

"Sheriff's Department," he said firmly.

Huzzard, a 41-year-old Montgomery County deputy, was easy to hear on the quiet, dark street. After a few seconds, the door opened, and he and other officers entered.

Inside the trailer, a muffled conversation ensued. "I know how much I owe," a woman protested loudly.

Then the door opened again, and the deputies led Kathleen Johns, clad in sweatpants, a sweatshirt, and handcuffs, to a waiting van.

Johns, 54, the mother of two adult children, owes $20,000 in long-delinquent child-support payments.

She was one of 37 suspected deadbeat dads and malefactor moms targeted in the unusual overnight sweep Tuesday. From about 1:30 to 6:30 a.m., Huzzard and 21 other deputies fanned out across Pennsylvania's third-largest county - into Lansdale, Hatfield, Collegeville, Pottstown, Norristown, Lower Merion, and Willow Grove - with warrants for scofflaws.

The sweep was the second this year by Sheriff Eileen Whalon Behr's department, this time with help from a handful of Bucks County deputies. The first was in June, after Behr offered an amnesty program for parents to avoid jail time by making payment arrangements. The county's Domestic Relations Office also collaborated on the operation.

The county tracks about 15,000 cases of child support, according to Rebecca Colantuno of the domestic relations office. Tuesday's targets were among 275 people with warrants for failing to pay or show in court.

The overnight raids netted 18 people who together owe about $180,000 in support for 25 children. Each was jailed pending an appearance before a district judge. Officials say many will catch up only to willfully fall behind again.

For Huzzard, a 14-year department veteran, the operation was ironic. He had only 15 minutes with his own two children Monday before heading to the overnight shift to hunt down parents who did not seem to care as much.

He used the time as efficiently as he could. "I put the 11-month-old on my lap and ate dinner," he said, "and tried to explain to the 3-year-old that Daddy couldn't play with him because I had to go catch the bad guys."

For anyone awake to see it, the scene, repeated throughout the night, would have looked odd - two unmarked cars, a marked sheriff's prisoner-transport van, and two sheriff's cruisers driving along streets, then braking, all together - like a funeral procession that reached the grave site.

The first stop was a house in North Wales where deputies hoped to find Jason Lauman, who owed $750 in payments for his children, 7 and 9.

Deputies walked around the house, shining flashlights to see where windows were and looking for hazards or hiding places inside.

Huzzard knocked on the door once, twice, more, with increasing strength as other deputies stood nearby. No one answered, but deputies seemed certain someone was home.

From the back came shouting and a dog barking. After about 10 minutes, deputies guided Lauman, 39, out from the rear of the house, his hands cuffed. His mother followed him out, telling the dog to hush.

As Lauman was led into the van, Deputy Joanne Plasterer, 47, head of the warrants division, told the mother that her son would appear before a district judge that afternoon.

After picking up Johns in Hatfield, the caravan moved on to search in vain at a Lansdale house for Anthony Garrity, who owes $25,140. Huzzard didn't expect to find Garrity, who has eluded deputies for more than a year.

Huzzard said it was hard on Garrity's parents, who don't deserve the tumult their son has caused.

Most of the suspected scofflaws surrendered easily, but the deputies recalled subjects who hid in a rolled-up rug, a hollowed-out dresser, and even up a chimney.

As the night inched toward morning, the deputies picked up Allen Vanmatre, 53, in Souderton. Plasterer called Vanmatre, whose delinquent payments total $20,374, "a frequent flier" among child-support scofflaws.

"I personally have arrested him three times on child support," she said.

Lastly, they nabbed Andrew DeCarlo in Colmar. He owes $5,055.

The team arrested half of its 10 targets, a respectable rate. "It was a good night for us," Plasterer said.


BY THE NUMBERS

22

Deputies involved in Tuesday's raid.

37

Warrants issued for parents who owe child support.

18

Parents arrested in the raid.

15,000

Montgomery County parents who have court orders to pay child support.


 


cdavis@phillynews.com

610-313-8109 @carolyntweets

www.inquirer.com/montcomemo

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