More than a quarter century after losing $10,000 in a financial scam, justice comes for Carla and Jeff Stone in dribs and drabs, $2 at a time.
The Stones, of Lenexa, were among numerous people swindled in the late 1980s after investing in what they thought was a legitimate business venture.
Dennis R. Collins, now 66 and living in Overland Park, turned himself in back in 1989, admitted his guilt and arranged a plan with court officials to pay more than $400,000 in restitution.
But after 25 years on probation, Collins has paid back only a fraction of what he owed.
For his victims like the Stones, who get only those occasional $2 checks in the mail, it has proved to be a frustrating but unfortunately typical experience.
Despite the efforts of court officials to enforce orders of restitution like the one imposed in Collins’ Johnson County case, it is rare for victims to recover everything they lost, local and national officials say.
“Our criminal laws don’t have any teeth when trying to recoup these losses,” said Jacob Gontesky, assistant Johnson County district attorney. “Victims are still often left holding the bag.”
It’s particularly a problem in financial crime cases with multiple victims, according to the FBI.
“The reality is that convicted defendants with no money or limited potential to make money may be unlikely to ever make meaningful restitution,” the FBI said in an online advisory for crime victims.
Jeff Dion, deputy director at the National Center for Victims of Crime, said efforts to collect restitution vary widely from state to state and are “hit and miss.”
In some states, he said, a defendant’s driver’s license can be suspended until restitution is paid. Some states can have any tax refund diverted to pay restitution. Wages can be garnished, but often in those cases the defendants will switch jobs in a kind of “cat and mouse game” to avoid making restitution payments, Dion said.
“Sometimes it just forces them off the grid to avoid responsibility,” he said.
In Kansas, judges can extend the period of probation indefinitely until all restitution is paid.
That’s what has been done in Collins’ case. His initial five-year term of probation imposed in 1990 has now been extended to 2020.
Ultimately, if a defendant fails to meet his payment obligations while on probation, a judge could order him to serve any underlying prison sentence.
However, judges rarely do that for financial crimes, Dion said. The thinking is that a person in jail can’t work and earn money to pay back victims.
Over the years of Collins’ probation, Johnson County prosecutors have filed motions to revoke probation at least half a dozen times because he wasn’t keeping up with payments.
But each time, the motions have been withdrawn after Collins worked out new payment plans. At one time, early in the case, he was paying $1,000 a month. Available records don’t indicate how much he is currently supposed to be paying. Each payment is then divided among the victims based on the percentage of their individual losses.
But whatever the amount, prosecutors say he is once again failing to make payments.
In March, they filed a new motion to revoke probation, and Collins was arrested after missing an April 17 court hearing.
He was released after posting a $2,500 bond, and during a court hearing on Thursday, Collins told the judge he never received notice of the April 17 hearing.
Collins told the judge that he plans to meet soon with his probation officer to see whether he can arrange a new payment plan.
“It’s been 25 years of hell,” Collins said in a phone conversation Friday.
He said he has been “trying to make good” on it but is now dealing with tax problems. He also said that some of the money that would have gone to the victims in the Johnson County criminal case was diverted because of a garnishment order in a Missouri civil case.
“It’s been tough,” he said.
Gontesky, who has been assigned to prosecute the revocation case against Collins, said he has been looking into possible ways to strengthen Kansas’ restitution laws.
He has been talking to other attorneys and studying other states with an eye toward crafting legislation.
While not commenting on Collins’ specific case, Gontesky said some victims who are owed money are frustrated to see defendants who are still driving nice cars, living in big houses and spending money on luxury items.
Some states have taken action to make sure that doesn’t happen. They conduct thorough financial studies of defendants so they can’t shield or hide their assets, he said.
Texas resident Chris Anthaume was one of those who invested money with Collins back in the 1980s.
“I was younger then,” he said. “I had to learn the hard way.”
He now receives checks for $3 “every once in a while.”
Another victim, Judy Smith, who lives in Utah, said the last payment she received was $4.38 in February. Last July, a check for $7.70 arrived in the mail.
“It’s hardly worth the postage,” she said.
Like many of the other victims, she said she thought Collins should have served time in prison.
But officials convinced them that probation would give them the chance to be paid back.
“It was an illusion,” Smith said. “Lesson learned.”
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