Special prosecutors focused on child support cases
By Robert Cloud
When Frank Schubert looks back at the five felony child support cases he prosecuted, he sees mixed results.
Of the five cases opened in 2010, two fathers are now paying their child support, two have stopped paying again, and one was sent to prison.
Schubert, who served as an assistant district attorney in Waupaca County from 1974-76, spent 25 years as a professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University in Boston before returning to the Waupaca area.
In 2010, Waupaca County received funds from the federal stimulus act to focus on parents who refused to pay child support.
“The research required is very time intensive,” Schubert said. “The cases involve a tremendous amount of legwork and investigation.”
Schubert said he needed to find hidden assets, identify unreported income and bank accounts, subpoena records and establish that the fathers had money but were refusing to pay.
“In one case, I found an inheritance,” Schubert said. “In another case, the guy was living with someone in Milwaukee, and together they owned a resort property up north.”
“We are not talking about a parent who has an injury and cannot work or who has been laid off,” according to Tom Maroney, a Waupaca attorney who has also served as a special prosecutor for Waupaca County. “We’re talking about people who would rather quit their job than pay child support.”
Maroney recently closed a child support case that resulted in a prison sentence.
Lanc B. Sheldon, 48, formerly of Waupaca, was convicted of three felony counts of failure to pay child support. He was sentenced to a total of three years in state prison and three years of extended supervision on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
Sheldon has two teenaged daughters and their mother first went to court seeking child support payments through civil action filed in July 2007. Maroney represented the county’s child support agency in the case.
Waupaca County Circuit Court Judge Philip Kirk ordered Sheldon to pay child support, but the following year, he cited Sheldon for contempt of court.
Sheldon was ordered to pay $300 per month in child support plus $100 per month for arrears in November 2008.
On Jan. 20, 2009, Sheldon was back in court on a contempt hearing for continued failure to pay. Kirk sentenced Sheldon to six months in jail, but stayed the sentence with the stipulation that Sheldon remain in strict compliance with all previous orders.
On June 23, 2009, Kirk issued a warrant for Sheldon’s arrest.
Sheldon appeared in court on July 20, 2009. He paid $850 that day and agreed to pay an additional $5,132 by Aug. 21 or spend six months in jail.
On Nov. 24, 2010, Schubert filed a criminal complaint against Sheldon, who was charged with eight felony counts of failure to pay child support. At that time, Sheldon had not made a regular monthly payment since June 2006 and owed $48,000 in back payments.
On Oct. 1, 2012, Sheldon pleaded no contest to three counts and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the stipulation that he pay full restitution, which had grown to more than $54,700.
On Aug. 26, 2013, Maroney was appointed special prosecutor in the case. A hearing was scheduled for Dec. 17, 2013, but Sheldon failed to appear in court. Another warrant was issued for his arrest.
On Aug. 14, 2014, Sheldon was arrested in Appleton and transported to the Waupaca County jail. Kirk ordered a $3,000 cash bond as a condition of Sheldon’s release. He remained in county jail until he was sentenced to prison.
At the time of his sentencing last week, the court determined that Sheldon owed more than $83,000 in child support.
Under Wisconsin law, failure to pay child support for more than 120 days is a Class I felony punishable by up to six years in prison.
“Non-support is a criminal offense,” Maroney said. “The children are the real victims of these offenses.”
Maroney points to State v. Oakley, a 2001 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision involving a case where a father of nine children was sent to prison for failing to pay child support.
A circuit court judge placed David Oakley on probation with the condition that he not have any more children unless he could demonstrate his ability to support all of them.
The Supreme Court upheld the judge’s decision and viewed the ban on procreating as rehablitative. Oakely was given the option of not procreating while on probation or being in prison where he would not have the opportunity.
The decision also looked at the overall consequences of not paying child support.
“The effects of the nonpayment of child support on our children are particularly troubling,” according to the written decision. “In addition to engendering long-term consequences such as poor health, behavioral problems, deliquency and low educational attainment, inadequate child support is a direct contributor to childhood poverty.”
Maroney also noted how many children are affected by nonpayment.
According to an October 2013 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 26 percent of custodial parents receive no child support payments.
“On new support orders, 14 percent of the noncustodial parents paid nothing the first year,” Maroney said. “By the fifth year, 27 percent were paying nothing.”
Schubert described a mother who struggled through poverty as she raised two children without receiving financial support from the father. At times, she was on food stamps.
“She put both of those children through college,” Schubert said. “He never helped at all.”
Maroney said there are now about 20 child support cases in Waupaca County that fit the criteria for criminal prosecution. However, federal funding is no longer available for special prosecutors.
“If more resources were available in the future, this would be an excellent program to continue,” Maroney said.