The collection of past-due child-support payments has, unfortunately, proven lucrative enough to develop into something of a growth industry in Texas in the past few years.
The child-support entrepreneurs say they're just looking after the interests of children and mothers in need of the assistance they aren't getting from the Texas attorney general's office. (See "Trading on Desperation" in the November 11 Press.)
Of course, some of the collection agencies pocket as much as 30 percent of what the families are owed by deadbeat dads. The fact that the collectors are making money off of folks who already are just barely getting by hasn't made them universally admired. And the arrest last week of the owner of Child Support Collection Group -- for, yes, failing to pay child support -- did nothing to enhance the industry's already suspect image.
Earlier this year, the Harris County Sheriff's Department was notified by authorities in Jim Wells County to be on the lookout for Todd Woodyard, a former sheriff's deputy in that South Texas county who was wanted for failing to pay $17,500 worth of child support.
The 34-year-old Woodyard was believed to be in the Houston area, and the job of tracking him down was assigned to Sergeant Debra Schmidt of the sheriff's fugitive warrants division. Shortly after putting word out on the street that she was looking for Woodyard, Schmidt was contacted by a confidential informant who told her that the deadbeat dad from Jim Wells was running a two-person child-support collection agency out of a Galleria-area office.
Posing as a mother owed back child support, Schmidt contacted Woodyard, who told her he'd be glad to help her and her fictitious kids -- for 29 percent of what they were owed. Schmidt attempted to arrange an appointment with Woodyard, but she says he was suspicious and insisted on conducting all of his business by mail.
"He would never meet me," she says. "The informant said Woodyard felt like we would never catch him -- that we couldn't touch him -- because of his experience in law enforcement."
But last week, Schmidt learned that Woodyard was living at a North Belt-area apartment. Fortified with backup units from her own department and the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force, the deputy arrived at Woodyard's apartment early in the morning and knocked on the door. After being admitted by Woodyard's girlfriend, the officers arrested Woodyard as he was coming out of the shower. According to Schmidt, the suspect didn't have much to say for himself. "He asked if the warrant was for child support," she says.
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For Schmidt, Woodyard's arrest was much more satisfying than the average cuffing.
"He had this huge big screen television," she says. "He had a nicely furnished apartment and three cars. He was not for want of anything. It really makes me mad that he got all that by making a living off mothers and children."
Woodyard was taken back to Jim Wells County to face charges of criminal non-support and contempt of court. His attorney, Rick Soliz, did not return phone calls from the Press.
As of this writing, Woodyard was still in jail in Jim Wells, where his bond was set at $10,000. If he's as smart as he claims to be, Woodyard might find it wise to remain incarcerated. His ex-wife, you see, is the daughter of the former sheriff of Jim Wells County.