Griffith father fights tax refund grab

2013-02-23T23:30:00Z 2013-02-24T16:06:04Z Griffith father fights tax refund grabSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com
February 23, 2013 11:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The first hint of tax woes hit Brandon Smith, of Griffith, on Feb. 7 when he received notice he wouldn't be receiving his $512 state tax refund.

The notice came from the Child Support Bureau of the Indiana Department of Child Services, which referred him to the Gary office of the Lake County Prosecutor.

Inquiring about the tax interception, the 25-year-old Smith learned he was being docked for back child support for a 22-year-old daughter, but the snafu didn't end there.

During subsequent contacts with county and state officials, Smith learned his name had been attached to eight or nine separate cases involving back child support, one involving a wage garnishment.

Smith said he was told by a county worker she had never seen anything like it.

"She had no idea how this could have happened," Smith said.

On Feb. 13, Smith received two notices from the Department of the Treasury of the interception of what appears to be $8,144 in federal tax refunds.

Smith, who had been working as a crane operator at a Schererville pipe coating company, said the federal tax refund was so substantial because he had been the sole support of his unemployed sister's two children.

Now unemployed himself, Smith said without the tax refund, he would need to borrow money to pay the rent, miss out on entering a nursing program and get further behind his legitimate child support payments toward his own two children — Kyron, 3, and Kiley, 2.

Smith said he was told the county office couldn't apply for an adjustment until the intercepted money reaches it, which can take four to six weeks.

"Each office is saying they needed to hear from the other," Smith said.

Officials from each office told The Times they were prohibited by confidentiality rules from discussing specifics about Smith's predicament.

"We are working with the individual to resolve the situation," said Stephanie McFarland, spokeswoman for the Department of Child Services.

Peter Villarreal, First Assistant for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office, initially declined comment but Friday confirmed news Smith received that morning from the state.

"Our people were calling the state people the whole time," Villarreal said.

Smith told The Times a caller from the state told him Friday morning there had been a mistake.

"She was very apologetic," Smith said. "They will be cutting me a check by the end of next week."

"She did tell me I owed more than I originally thought," Smith said of his own child support obligations. The check will be minus the amount of any arrearage bringing him current, he said.

In addition to the $6,843 in federal refunds, Smith said he was told he would be refunded $512 in state taxes and his name expunged from all unrelated back child support cases.

With tax season in full swing, Villarreal urged anyone with questions about tax interceptions to contact his office at (219) 883-3333.

"Call us or come and see us, and we'll sit down and work it through to see the issue and do what we can to help," he said.

However, Smith said he's lost his faith in government as far as that goes.

"If it happened to me, it could have happened to someone else and they didn't catch it," he said. "When they thought it was their money to take, it was easy to get their hands on it, but when they realized the mistake they made, I had to go through this long process."

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