INDIANAPOLIS — Judges often order criminals to pay restitution to victims for their loss or injury, but Call 6 Investigates uncovered criminals getting away without paying hundreds of millions of dollars to their victims.
Scott Evans runs an audio visual production company in Indianapolis. When Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl in 2012, Evans worked with party planner Howard Jaffe.
"The day before the event, he walks in and hands us a check for $50,000," Evans said. "Which we didn't find out bounced until the week after. We tried processing it three times, and it just kept coming back as no funds."
Prosecutors charged Jaffe with check fraud. As part of his 2014 sentence, a judge ordered Jaffe to pay $50,000 in restitution to Evans Audio Visual. Evans says prosecutors told him Jaffe would not be a free man until he paid.
According to court records, Jaffe's probation was set to terminate "upon payment of restitution and completion of community work service." But today Jaffe is off probation, and Evans is still waiting to receive his money.
Evans feels that he was victimized once by Jaffe, and again by the judicial system.
"I was victimized and ignored," Evans said. "When you call for help, they don't want to help you. It's just like, 'We did our job, now go away.'"
Evans is not alone in waiting for compensation. A Call 6 investigation found that 80 percent of restitution ordered over the last 20 years remains unpaid.
When offenders reach the end of their probation without paying restitution, the debt is converted to a civil judgment. That means victims like Evans have to hire a lawyer to go after their money.
Call 6 Investigates asked the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, Clerk's Office and Probation Department for data on how much restitution is ordered and collected, but none of those agencies could provide the information requested. We then asked the Indiana Office of Court Services to run a report, and the numbers they provided are staggering.
|By the Numbers|
|20 Years of Restitution in Indiana|
|Indiana||$580 million||$90 million||$22.5 million||$467.4 million|
|Marion Co.||$103.4 million||$3.4 million||$4.4 million||$95.6 million|
*The numbers outlined above were provided by the Indiana Office of Court Services, and reflect restitution amounts from records of the Clerk's Office only. Other county departments may also collect restitution.
When asked what he would say to victims who feel like the restitution orders are just hollow promises, judge Mark Stoner responds, "Well, in many respects it is."
Stoner formerly served as the chair for the statewide Probation Committee. He explained that when the courts order restitution, it's up to the probation department to collect and distribute the money to the victim. Probation can use tools like wage garnishment and wage withholding; and if a criminal isn't paying, the offender can be called back into court for a hearing where the court can adjust the payment amount.
"I can't jail you for being poor, but I can jail you if you're not making a good faith effort towards paying," Stoner explained. "The law says you can't incarcerate someone simply because they're poor. But you can incarcerate someone if they do have the assets and they recklessly refuse to pay."
Stoner said it's rare for an offender to be incarcerated for not paying restitution, and often the courts give criminals most of their sentence to pay up. Part of the problem is a lack of resources. Courts often look at an offender's income and assets to determine how much restitution they should be paying, but it functions largely on the honor system.
"It's not unusual that we get complaints that the person who's got a public defender is driving a Lexus," said Stoner. "That's one of the problems we have with probation is we don't have the resources to actually be checking on people to see how much equity they have in their homes. We are so underfunded we have to focus on case management."
Stoner also explained that when a criminal reaches the end of their sentence, a court can't extend it just because the offender hasn't paid their restitution. "The law keeps us from doing that," Stoner said. "Every crime has a set duration."
So are the courts doing everything they can to get victims the money they're owed?
"I'm going to say that we can be better," Stoner said. "We're not as good at marking and collecting the data as we should be. That has to be fixed."
Stoner adds that while judges can't advocate for the victim, prosecutors can.
Realities of the System
Call 6 Investigates spoke with Ryan Mears, a chief trial deputy prosecutor with the Marion County Prosecutor's Office.
One of those resources is the state's Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund. According to Indiana Criminal Justice Institute spokesperson Will Wingfield, the fund acts as a safety net for costs of crime victims not covered by restitution, Social Security, other public funds or various types of insurance. The fund paid out $7.5 million in claims last year.
But victims of white collar crimes are out of luck. And for Scott Evans, that means he's also out of $50,000.
Mears says when restitution is converted to a civil judgment, that's actually a good thing. "The benefit is they now don't have to go to court and prove the case that this particular person harmed me or injured me and owes me hundreds of thousands of dollars," Mears said. "That would open up the opportunity for potentially garnishing wages. It gives the victim the opportunity to get money even after the criminal case is over."
Evans says he has no plans to spend his own money chasing after the $50,000 judgment against Jaffe, who served time in Indiana prisons for a probation violation from February 15, 2016, to October 30, 2016. Evans feels like the system failed him.
"I'm mad at the system," Evans said. "The system failed me more than anything."
Jaffe was release to Florida Department of Corrections supervision, and now he's a wanted fugitive in Florida after being sentenced in 2015 to grand theft.
Evans wants the judicial system to be more aggressive about making victims whole again rather than making empty promises.
"Jail is the best thing when it's a criminal act," Evans said. "They didn't follow the money that he (Jaffe) got from all these people. They're not being put in jail for the nonpayment, and I believe there's no more follow-through on it."
Should you find yourself in a similar situation, you can protect yourself by keeping records including receipts, medical bills and other expenses incurred as the result of the crime. Whether it's a criminal or civil matter, a judge will make you prove how you were financially impacted.