BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Don Domio has spent months trying to get his case resolved with the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), with no luck.
Before he contacted the 9News Investigators, Domio says he simply wanted someone at DCFS to talk to him about his case, but was unable to get them to return his calls.
“I’m to the point that I don’t know what else to do. This is the last resort,” Domio told WAFB. “These people are labeling me as a criminal. That’s what they’re making me look like.”
In 2009, Domio was ordered to pay $800 per month in child support for his son. Domio says hasn’t missed a payment since the ruling, and payments were always made on time.
In June of 2018, Domio’s son moved in with him after he was given full custody. Despite that, records show DCFS kept taking $184.61 out of Domio’s weekly paycheck and continued to do so through November of 2018.
Four late notices were sent to Domio, even though he was paying during those six months - two in August of 2018, one in September of 2018, and one in October of 2018. After being sent the notice in October, Domio presented documents to his DCFS case worker. He says after that worker updated his information, his new payment obligation was changed to 1 cent paid twice a month.
“I produced all the paperwork in 2018 showing that I had custody. They continued to take it out of my check. Never got an answer why, they just continued to take it. Then when I did get an answer, ‘Oh, you have to go to court.'”
A week before that payment change, the same employee allegedly put the following statement in Domio’s case notes: “We do not have a current employer for the non-custodial parent.”
The statement conflicts directly with Domio’s pay stubs, which show DCFS garnished wages directly from his employer every week.
Unable to get clarification from his case worker about the discrepancy, Domio spoke with a supervisor asking for his money to be returned.
“She told me, I would get it in installments” Domio said. “The law demanded me to take care of my son, so I did that, so why should I have to wait because you messed up? They messed up. I didn’t mess up.”
He would later learn his case worker had reported him to several agencies, including the State Tax Refund Offset Program, Federal Tax refund, and Lottery Division for Interception of Winnings, among others, and told them Domio was behind on payments. Domio would learn this when his federal tax returns came.
A letter sent to Domio along with the tax refund noted his original refund was around $4,649, however, he would only receive $33. The other $4,616 had been applied to child support debt.
When questioned by WAFB, Terri Ricks, deputy secretary for DCFS, said the agency cannot discuss specific cases.
However, Ricks explained the agency cannot make determinations based on a ruling made in court until a judge signs off on it. In Domio’s case, the judgement to stop payments to DCFS was not signed until Feb. 22, 2019.
Despite that, DCFS’s records show Domio personally paid a total of $4,062.42, inspiring questions from the 9News Investigators, who asked how Domio could still be in the red.
KIRAN: He’s paying every single week. That’s according to your records online. However, the same department is sending out notices to him saying you’re not paying while paperwork from your website very clearly shows he is paying
RICKS: If a non-custodial parent is receiving a statement that they’re not paying when they’re paying, of course that doesn’t make sense.
RICKS: If he has done those things and we turned a blind eye to him, then certainly this is something the department has to take a look at, what happened in that case.
KIRAN: Was the ball dropped here?
RICKS: Ummm, I can’t speak about this particular case so I won’t be able to say that. I can say to you that we’re happy to sit down with anybody to go through their case to see, if our ball was dropped, we would certainly take responsibility for that
Ricks says there is still room for improvement in DCFS’ processes. Some of the blame, she says, belongs to the 275,000 processed by the agency each month coupled with the reduced number of case workers available since the a restructuring in the agency two years ago.
“The truth is, Kiran, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed at the department in many different places,” said Ricks. “I definitely think that in every case, we’ll find ourselves room to grow. I have not found gross negligence in this agency though.”
Domio says his situation represents the need for a major reform in the agency.
“We got a problem with our government. They putting money where money’s not supposed to be put and doing things they’re not supposed to do and it’s hurting people, crippling people, good people,” said Domio. “The whole system needs to be fixed. They need to go in and audit the system. Just like weeding the garden. Take out the bad weeds, leave the good weeds in, and start all over or wipe the whole thing clean.”
Less than 24 hours after WAFB started its questioning, Domio discovered 19 checks from DCFS in his mailbox. Domio says he’d already received a check for nearly $4,600 before that discovery.
He is still owed about 3 weeks worth of money.