Jardine: Stanislaus County attorney leaves $451 million legacy

When David Ingersoll joined the Stanislaus County district attorney's office as a prosecutor in 1985, it didn't take him long to find his niche.

Sure, he handled some criminal cases. But after three years, he began going after deadbeat dads (and moms) as a member of the DA's family support division.

Then, in 2002, the county created the Department of Child Support Services and named him director.

Ingersoll, 57, retired last week. His 25-year career produced, among other accomplishments, one amazing statistic: Under his guidance over the past decade, the county has recovered more than $451 million dollars in child support payments.

Yes, $451 million. That's enough to buy the Los Angeles Lakers franchise with a few bucks to spare.

In cases involving people who weren't on public assistance, the custodial parent got the money for the children. Where families had received welfare support, the money was returned to the proper issuing government agency.

Why so much money?

Ingersoll said Child Support Services has more than 37,000 active cases. The number is huge because once a judge orders child support payments, the agency keeps the case until the child is 18. But the case doesn't necessarily end at that point.

"There's no statute of limitations on the arrearage," Ingersoll said, referring to missed payments and monies owed. "There are cases that began in the 1960s in which (deadbeats) are still having to pay for back child support."

When they are served with orders to pay child support, these parents are told -- but conveniently forget -- that liens will be placed on Social Security benefits if they don't pay up. Or on their inheritances. Or on property sales. Or on any income.

"We want people to be accountable," he said. "The most common way is to take it through wage garnishment. We've seized and sold boats and cars."

He's had frustrating cases:

"I was never able to get a plane," Ingersoll said. "We had a drug dealer (deadbeat dad) who was never in the U.S. long enough to arrest him. He'd land in the U.S., but didn't stay long and didn't file flight plans."

And disappointments:

"In one of the saddest cases, a man who, shortly after realizing we were pursuing him for support, shot his ex-wife with a shotgun," Ingersoll said. "He didn't kill her, and the DA got a conviction (for assault with a deadly weapon and causing great bodily harm). But we couldn't prove causal reasons to the child support case."

That meant the ex-husband received a shorter prison sentence.

Mostly, though, Ingersoll gained the satisfaction of holding irresponsible parents accountable.

One such case involved Tony Iommi, lead guitarist for the rock band Black Sabbath, whose ex-wife had moved to Stanislaus County and had him jailed here for nonpayment of child support.

"That was our largest single cash (seizure)," Ingersoll said. "It was tricky because he was a British citizen. We had to wait until he came to play a concert in Sacramento. A DA criminal investigator from Sacramento arrested him after the concert. It's a good thing we didn't get him before the show. That would have caused a riot."

Some cases were like the old TV game show, "Who Do You Trust?"

One woman claimed her child's father had not been making support payments. But when the couple went before the judge, the dad produced canceled checks that bore her signature of endorsement on the back.

The bottom line is that Ingersoll helped children get the financial support they needed and protected taxpayers in the process.

Stanislaus County supervisors honored Ingersoll at their March 30 meeting, citing his "outstanding service to the citizens and employees of Stanislaus County."

In retirement, he'll continue to be an advocate for the children of deadbeat parents. He'll remain involved in the California Child Support Directors Association.

"Parents are required to support their children," Ingersoll said. "We've been able to touch a lot of children's lives."

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or