WASHOE COUNTY, Nev. (KOLO) Many of the people highlighted in KOLO 8’s Crime Crackdown 2016 campaign had arrest warrants through the district attorney’s office for not paying child support. Commonly called “deadbeat parents.”
The Washoe County District Attorney’s office has a team of investigators who search for parents considered the worst offenders. What we call deadbeats. These investigators allowed KOLO 8 News Now’s Sarah Johns to join them on a shift, as long as she kept their identities protected.
"These custodial parents are in need,” one of the investigators said. “You know, they're raising children by themselves. They're putting kids through school. Trying to feed them clothe them."
For this undercover duo, their job isn’t glamorous.
They do have offices in the Mills B. Lane Justice Center. But their true work is done sitting in bucket seats, in a tricked-out SUV, sharing candy from a plastic grocery bag on the floorboard and from the glove box.
"Sometimes you can find a good place to sit and do some surveillance... And then you're just waiting."
"That's the name Chance...Tattooed on his neck.
That's the name of his son that he's not paying child support for."
The investigator opens up one of several files the partners brought with them. On the first sheet of paper is a mugshot, and personal information of the man they seek. "I believe that's the name Chance written on his neck, or tattooed on his neck. That's the name of his son that he's not paying child support for."
They’ve arrested Johnny Fabiano before. They have learned Fabiano is a handyman for a local trailer park.
"That little Mazda pickup down there is the vehicle he was in the last time we arrested him,” the investigator points to the end of the street within the park. “It was red at the time. He spray painted it black."
Fabiano’s is just one of 7,000 active cases being investigated by DA Chris Hicks’ team.
"Our priority is a public service division,” Hicks says. “And then if that doesn't work, if we're not able to get people to collaborate with us and help get their payments in, then we go to the enforcement side."
Before getting to arrest, the Family Support Division will seize tax returns, garnish wages and driver’s licenses. Each, a progressive warning.
“We can do all that if we have to,” Hicks says. “Because sometimes you have to get someone's attention."
The Family Support Division is successful. Of 100% of current support that's owed on a given month, it collects 76.68%. More than $2 million a month. In 2015 alone, the division collected more than $27 million.
"That's money that we then turn around and give to parents and families in the community. And if you take it a step further, and think about it, that is a families who are going out and spending that money in our community and preparing kids adequately to go to school," says Hicks.
"They've really been a wonderful advocate for my kids."
“They've (Family Support Division employees) really been a wonderful advocate for my kids."
Annette Piccirilli’s ex is in arrears close to $30,000.
"There have been months when we've been in survival mode. We're not right now. But we were."
Annette and her children’s father were in court no less than four times in 2015 over child-support. She says that she didn’t even know he was underpaying once payment resumed because she had become “desensitized” after years of sporadic support. It was the Family Support Division which caught discrepancies.
"My commitment to wanting to do this story is based on, every time I go to court, and I have to take time off. And every time I don't get support but I'm able to get by, I think about the women who don't have the resources that I do. Who work an hourly job, who lose out on income, because of the spurious nature of their ex-spouses or the father of their children's employment."
Annette continued to say "There was a period, oh my God, I don't want to start crying. There was a period where he was actually a very good dad. And a good provider."
"I think everyone can relate to relationships at times can be very raw and difficult,” Hicks says. “And when you infuse divorces and children and whatever caused that divorce, people can get real emotional about it. And so, that oftentimes can lead to people not wanting to pay what they owe."
Nobody sees that more than the investigators on the street, who moved on to another case file.
"This is one of those situations where you want to get this noncustodial parent because the custodial parent is raising two kids. She's single. She's working. She's doing everything she can working at a gas station. She's a clerk. And this gentleman goes into her place of work and gambles right in front of her. He owes her child support and he doesn't pay."
They staked out Corey Fleck’s house for an hour-and-a-half. A call was placed to his kids’ mom.
"He was in the store last night?” we hear the investigator’s side of the phone call. “Did he gamble again? He used a $100 bill?"
"The fact of the matter is, our laws are in place to make sure equations are in place to make sure what can be paid," Hicks says. "We find that when we do have to go to that level, it works."
Evidenced by a conversation overheard between our investigator, and someone he recently arrested:
Investigator: "Do what you gotta do."
Mom: "I know. I am."
Investigator: "I was worried about your kids."
Mom: "I know."
Investigator: "I don't like doing that."
Mom: "I know you don't."
Investigator: “Don't make me do that again."
Mom: "I'm not! I swear! I swear of it!"
UPDATE: Investigators credit an "outstanding Crime Crackdown tip" for providing information they were able to use and locate Corey Fleck. He was arrested June 14, 2016.