Parents duped by Child Support collection agency

As posted on January 22, 2014 on myfoxatlanta.com

By Dana Fowle, FOX 5 I-Team reporter

ATLANTA - A big development for Georgia parents ripped off by a child support collection agency. The man at the helm has pleaded guilty in federal court. For years parents complained that money they paid to take care of their children often didn't make it to them. Instead, court documents show their hard-earned money went to the company's key players "to lease homes, cars and boats."

This now shutdown private child support collections agency just outside of Valdosta, according to federal prosecutors, was able to reach into the pockets of metro Atlanta parents taking $2.3 million dollars by defrauding parents.

"This was a horrendous, horrific, extremely pervasive, and widespread criminal ring," said John Sours from the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection. His agency launched the original investigation almost six years ago.

"They were living high on the hog, certainly higher than the people they were taking it from, or the people they should have been providing it to. You know the typical situation: fancy homes, boats, cars."

Stuart Cole pleaded guilty in federal court January 13, 2014 to "conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud" and "money laundering." Investigators say his agency went by as many as 14 different names - names like Child Support Services of Georgia and Atlanta.

Brandie Solis told the I-Team in 2008 she thought after a call to Child Support Services of Georgia, a number she found in the phonebook, that she was dealing with a state agency.

This struggling single mother said, "I told them that's who I was looking for and he told me, ‘we're the ones here. That's what we're here for to get child support to the children'."

Instead like many others, she complained to the state that the baby's father was sending money but that she wasn't getting much.

"They would come but sporadically. I think three weeks they came when I could go to my mailbox on Monday and know that it would be there," she said frustrated.

Investigators told us the scheme included illegally threatening parents to get them into contracts.

Back in 2008 James Leverette told the I-Team, this private child support collections company threatened him.

"Either they could suspend my license, or basically, the main thing they told me, they would garnish my wages."

In fact, even before the company shuttered its doors, a Gwinnett County judge started telling clients who'd been hauled into court by Child Support Services to tear up what he considered fraudulent contracts.

From the bench Judge James Oxendine used harsh words, "They are nothing but bloodsuckers out of people who do not understand the law."

Mr. Cole is scheduled to be sentenced April 28th. He could face 40 years in prison with a $750,000 fine. A business partner is also expected to plead guilty. A spokeswoman with the US Attorney's office says the judge will decide if parents can expect some sort refund for money they paid but never got back.