Fraud Alert: Scammers Claiming to be
OAG Crime Victim Services Attempting
to Defraud Texans
AUSTIN, TX – Attorney General Ken Paxton today warned Texans about reported scam callers falsely claiming to be members of the OAG’s Crime Victim ServicesDivision and attempting to obtain personal and financial information from members of the public.
The fraudulent callers are attempting to obtain personal identifying information from the call recipient and ask for money transfers or bank details after baselessly claiming the call recipient’s social security number has been compromised.
The callers are using local numbers and sometimes provide a false “case number” during the call.
The true OAG Crime Victim Services phone number is toll-free 1-800-983-9933 and local number 512-936-1200.
The OAG warns Texans against providing any personal information, such as social security or banking numbers, over the phone with anyone claiming to be from the Crime Victim Services Division, and encourages anyone who receives a fraudulent or scam call to report it to the OAG’s Consumer Protection Division by calling the Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-621-0508 or filing a complaint online .
He Didn’t Abuse His Daughter. The State Took Her Anyway.
What does it mean to be a parent? One man hopes his case will change how a decades-old New York law treats unwed fathers.
For the first five years of his daughter Amanda’s life, Ping N., a restaurant manager in Manhattan, lived with his little girl and her mother. He tucked her into bed at night and enjoyed spoiling her with her favorite snacks, like fish balls, egg tarts and ramen noodles.
But when child welfare officials found that Amanda’s mother had inflicted excessive corporal punishment on her in 2013, they removed the girl from the home. Even though court records show that Ping had never committed abuse and was not present when it took place, a judge later decided that he would lose his daughter, too. Ping could not have custody or any say in her life anymore.
Lawyers for Ping, an immigrant from China whose surname is being withheld to protect the identity of his children, are now appealing that decision in what they hope will be a test case that changes how the decades-old law treats unwed fathers.
In New York and 11 other states, if a mother is accused of abuse or neglect but the father is not, and he is not married to her, he must prove that he is a parent in his own right — otherwise he will not have a say in whether the child is put up for adoption. In most of those states, including New York, proof means paying child support — not to the mother but to the government agency that has taken the child.
“This is just blatant discrimination based on stale gender stereotypes — that the only way to be a father is to have a wedding ceremony or else to be a kind of rote financial provider,” said Martin Guggenheim, a law professor at New York University who studies family law and children’s rights.
Defenders of the New York law, which dates to 1980, say it helps children who have been languishing in foster care to get a permanent home sooner by preventing unmarried fathers who do not support their children from using the courts to delay or stop an adoption.
If those fathers had full rights, “we would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he abandoned the child … which can take years,” said Ira L. Eras, a New York lawyer who has mostly represented foster care agencies for three decades.
A Family Court judge in Manhattan ended Ping’s parental rights last year, paving the way for Amanda’s adoption by another family. The judge cited Ping’s status as an unwed father at the time of his daughter’s birth and his failure to pay child support to Catholic Guardian Services, the foster care agency that the city’s child welfare arm, the Administration for Children’s Services, had hired to take custody of the girl.
Ping’s appeal, which was submitted in February and will be argued this fall by lawyers with the Family Defense Clinic at New York University School of Law, contended that he was financially supporting his daughter by giving her clothes, toys, food, gift cards and money, as well as by paying for outings and meals they had together. Ping said he was never told that he also owed child support to the government and had never received a bill.
His lawyers added that there was no apparent way for fathers to pay child support to New York foster care agencies, a claim echoed by other lawyers in similar cases.
A spokeswoman for the Administration for Children’s Services, Chanel Caraway, and the executive director of Catholic Guardian Services, Craig Longley, both said they could not comment on a specific case. Ms. Caraway also declined to comment on whether the agency had ever tried to get fathers to pay child support in these situations.
The state does not track how often the law is given as the reason for ending a father’s parental rights. But a review of Family Court decisions and interviews with foster care lawyers suggests it is routinely cited in those cases.
Last week, David Dunbar, a 43-year-old overnight grocery store manager from the South Bronx, narrowly missed becoming one of them.
After the mother of Mr. Dunbar’s daughter developed severe mental illness in 2014, the children’s services agency deemed her to be an unfit parent and placed the girl, Destiny, then 10, in foster care. In order for her to be adopted, the agency had to show that Mr. Dunbar was also not a fit parent.
Although court records show that Mr. Dunbar consistently visited Destiny, took parenting classes and passed drug tests, the foster care agency, St. Dominic’s Family Services, argued that his rights should be ended in part because he failed to communicate regularly with officials about his plans for his daughter.
As the years went on, the agency began citing the state’s decades-old law as an alternate reason for ending Mr. Dunbar’s rights, court records show. But at a hearing in Manhattan on Sept. 18, the agency dropped its petition, largely because Destiny, now 16, had repeatedly stated to the court that she wanted to be with her father.
“I loved my daughter’s mother,” Mr. Dunbar said. “I wish I could’ve married her. I wish we could have lived a wonderful life together. But we didn’t. That doesn’t mean I’m not a dad.”
Diane Aquino, the chief operating officer of St. Dominic’s Family Services, said that she could not comment on an individual case but that the agency would not try to end a father’s rights if he were “actively planning for his child.”
“Five years in foster care indicates a father who is only intermittently planning,” Dr. Aquino said.
A half-century ago, unwed fathers had even fewer rights. But a landmark Supreme Court decision in 1972 redefined fatherhood, to an extent.
In that case, the justices found that a state could not deny an unwed father his parental rights without demonstrating that he was unfit. Over the next decade, legislators in New York and at least nine other states decided that the fitness of these unmarried fathers would be judged by whether they paid child support and maintained some relationship with the child.
When those laws were passed, many policymakers had a particular scenario in mind: a single mother who wanted to give up her child for adoption. Their goal was to prevent an absentee father from thwarting the mother’s decision without having paid child support.
But they did not take into account adoptions that occurred after a government agency had taken a child from a mother because of abuse or neglect. In order to satisfy the law, the unwed father would technically have to send payments to the government.
In New York, lawyers for fathers said that making payments to foster care agencies was not even possible. The agencies do not try to collect the money, they said, and fathers do not know where or to whom to send it.
“I’ve tried to imagine ways of doing it — having my clients get child support orders against themselves, which they can then pay, or offer to pay the agency in cash every time they can, just so it’s in the record that they tried,” said Yusuf El Ashmawy, a lawyer who represents Mr. Dunbar and other fathers. “It’s mind-bending.”
Since its passage nearly four decades ago, New York’s law has not been updated, even as the culture and the courts have embraced more expansive views of what makes a family . The state’s highest court struck down an earlier provision requiring unwed fathers to be living with their child’s mother in order to have a say in an adoption, but it has not directly ruled on other aspects of the statute.
Ping’s lawyers hope his argument will sway the court.
His daughter Amanda, now 11, was adopted by a white family with whom she has bonded. She lost her ability to communicate with Ping in Mandarin; he does not speak English. Ping eventually married Amanda’s mother, and they had a son, Owen, now 6. Ping’s wife has since died, and he is raising his son on his own.
The Good, the Bad and the Puzzling in
Child Maltreatment Counts
Each year, the Oklahoma agency that tracks and investigates abuse and neglect of children issues a detailed statistical report.
Buried in all of the numbers is what appears to be a hopeful trend.
During the past six years, the number of child abuse cases – the most severe form of child maltreatment – has plummeted by more than 50 percent, to 1,407 last year.
At the same time, another measure of how Oklahoma treats its children has risen to alarming levels. During the same period, the number of substantiated cases of child neglect has tripled, to 13,394. That drove an overall 18% increase in the number of cases of abuse, neglect or both since fiscal year 2012, a data analysis by Oklahoma Watch found.
But why would neglect soar and abuse plummet?
Human Services Department officials say they don’t know why, except mainly to suggest that when it comes to child neglect, citizens and professionals who deal with children have become better educated about recognizing the problem, which is defined more broadly than abuse, and are more inclined to report suspected cases.
No one at DHS or among child advocacy groups seems to be celebrating. Some advocates question whether the statistics are accurate and, as they did at a recent legislative hearing, continue to push for more funding to prevent and respond to both abuse and neglect.
“Why overall it (abuse) keeps going down, I don’t know,” said Debi Knecht, DHS deputy director of child welfare programs. “I would like to think society just evolves and stops abusing kids, but I don’t know why that is just in one particular area.”
Among the thousands of substantiated cases of abuse and neglect each year, a large majority involve only neglect. In fiscal 2018, neglect cases made up 86% of the total 15,591 cases, compared with 9% for abuse and 7% for both abuse and neglect.
The most common types of abuse are a threat of harm, such as a child who is in danger of abuse because of their proximity to physical violence; beating or hitting by hand, and beating or hitting with an instrument.
The most common types of neglect are threat of harm, which is when a child faces a direct threat from their environment, such as a home where drug use is present; exposure to domestic violence, and failure to protect a child.
Knecht credits most of the increase in cases of child neglect to statewide efforts to teach law enforcement, teachers and others who work with kids how to recognize and report the problem. Education drives up the number of reports that come into the agency, which leads to more substantiated reports, she said.
Knecht said the opioid epidemic and popularity of methamphetamine have also contributed to growing reports of neglect that involve substance abuse.
Knecht said the increase in neglect cases also could mean the agency is taking action earlier and thus preventing physical abuse. Another contributing factor could be a cultural shift that has caused fewer parents to spank their children, she said.
But Knecht acknowledged it is difficult on the surface to reconcile the divergent trends. An increase in reporting would more likely point to an increase in substantiated abuse, not a decrease, as it did with neglect cases, she said.
Child advocates question the accuracy of the data, saying the number of child abuse cases they see has remained steady or even increased over the past several years.
Dr. Ryan Brown, a child-abuse pediatrician at The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City, said he has seen more cases of child abuse in recent years, not fewer.
“No matter what the DHS numbers say, those physical abuse numbers are not going down,” Brown said.
National reports from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also show an increase in children suffering from abuse and neglect combined.
Mary Abbott Children’s House conducts forensic interviews of children ages 3 to 18 for criminal investigations in Cleveland, Garvin and McClain counties and surrounding areas. Interviewer Christi Cornett said the organization interviews around 480 children per year, and that number has remained steady since at least 2013.
Joe Dorman, CEO of the the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and Nellie Kelly, executive director of the Child Protection Coalition, said the reported drop in child abuse cases contradicts what they see every day.
“I want to believe we’re getting better, but I find it hard to believe,” Dorman said.
Reporting Abuse and Neglect: All Oklahomans 18 or older are required to report child abuse or neglect. Reports can be made 24 hours a day, any day, to the state Department of Human Services at 1-800-522-3511.
WYOMING, MI – A Wyoming man was arrested after he allegedly tried to set up a meeting to sexually assault children, state police say.
Alexander Joseph Piscitelli, 22, was arraigned on two counts of child sexually abusive activity and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime.
The Michigan State Police Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force says Piscitelli arranged online to pay someone to have sexual contact with a 5 and 8-year-old child. But the person he was communicating with was an undercover detective.
MSP says it found more evidence against Piscitelli when officers searched his home after the arrest.
Online records show Piscitelli was booked into the Kent County jail Thursday and that he was being held on a $100,000 bond.
Tips about exploitation of a child online can be submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children®. CyberTipline 1-800-843-5678
Information on talking to your kids about online safety can be found on MSP’s website
WANTED: Suspect reportedly tried to abduct a teenage girl in Colorado
FORT COLLINS, CO – Police in Colorado are hoping a composite sketch can help lead to an arrest in an attempted abduction case.
The incident happened on Tuesday in Fort Collins at about 3:40 p.m.
Police are reporting a teenage girl was riding her skateboard on Deerfield Drive when she fell.
A vehicle described as an older, tan, four-door sedan with “bubbled window tint” stopped, and a man got out. He approached the girl, grabbed her arm, and pushed her into his vehicle.
Two men were walking nearby and approached the vehicle to intervene.
The suspect reportedly told the witnesses that he knew the victim.
The victim told them she did not know the suspect.
She fled the area on foot and called the police a short time later.
Police are asking for help in identifying the suspect and are asking the two witnesses to come forward. A composite sketch of the suspect is at the top of this article.
The suspect is described as a Hispanic man, in his early 20s, about five-foot-ten, with short hair, a thin mustache, bushy eyebrows, a deep voice and a Spanish accent. He was wearing a white tank top and blue jeans at the time. He reportedly has tattoos on both arms.
“Detectives have been diligently investigating this incident. Now that they’ve spoken to area residents and completed necessary interviews, we need the larger community’s help identifying the suspect,” said Sgt. Heather Moore, who leads the Crimes Against Persons Unit.
“We’re very grateful to the bystanders who intervened, and we also really need them to contact police to share what they saw.”
Anyone with information is asked to call 970-416-2825.