(WXYZ) - He’s on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in back child support. But he says the boy is not his son—and has the DNA test to prove it. So why might the state send a local man to jail for failing to pay up for a child that isn’t his?
Gary Harper knows all too well what it’s like to have run-ins with the law.
“I mean, learned my lesson, paid to society my debt,” says Harper, who spent 18 years in prison for auto theft and armed robbery.
“I want to do the right thing. I want to be a good member of society,” he says.
After seven years of freedom and clean living, Harper could be locked up again—this time for not making good on the more than $22,500 the state says he owes in child support for a boy a DNA test proves isn’t his.
Dorothy Hoose is Harper’s former girl friend and the biological mom to a young man, Thomas Matero, who was born in 1988. When Hoose signed up for state aid she gave Harper’s name as the father and that was it. The state considers Matero Harper’s son.
“I don’t think it’s right, not at all, not one bit because he’s not the father. He’s not. I thought he was, but he’s not,” says Hoose.
All this went down when Harper was behind bars. When he got out in 2003 the state said if Harper could prove he wasn’t the father, he would be free and clear. But Harper didn’t have the $500 at the time for a DNA test. He had the test done years later.
“I thought it was pretty neat. I wouldn’t mind to know who my father was and everything,” says Matero, who Harper tracked down in Florida and who agreed to a DNA test. The test proved what Harper suspected.
“I found out that he wasn’t my father,” Matero says.
But none of this matters to the state. The law gives a limited window for a paternity test to be done. Harper was too late.
“…it feels like I’m being punished again, you know what I mean, all over a technicality,” says Harper.
The other twist to this story is that Matero says an aunt raised him out of state.
“She raised me in Tennessee, California, Alaska and Florida,” says Matero.
Why is the State of Michigan collecting child support for a child who wasn’t raised here?
“He grew up the first three years with me,” says Hoose, who explains she collected state aid back then.
The way it works is the state then goes after the dad to pay it back through child support.
“...he’s done nothing but bump up against one brick wall after another in his attempt to try to get this taken care of,” says attorney Susan Pushman, who represents Harper.
She says by law the state was required to tell Harper when in prison that he may have a son and provide him a DNA test. That never happened even though the state knew he was behind bars at the time.
“…at least as far as December of ’94 goes, we know that the friend of the court was aware that he was incarcerated,” says Pushman.
The Friend of the Court tracks and collects child support for the state. A 1994 letter the Friend of the Court sent to the prison system is proof that it knew Harper was behind bars. That’s the argument she plans to make to wipe away the child support.
“…he hopes, and I hope for him, that we’re on the verge of having this put behind him,” says Pushman.
A judge may rule in Harper’s favor and do away the child support. But by law, his attorney says he would still be Matero’s dad. Harper, who still keeps in touch with Matero, seems ok with that.
“I learned I really like the kid, you know,” says Harper. “If I did have a kid, you know, of my own, I would be proud to have him for my son.”
Harper initially owed more than $50,000 in child support before a judge reduced it to the $22,500. That same judge may cut it back again if Harper can prove he was in prison when the child support case began.