Cycle of arrests repeats for Pittsburgh deadbeat father suspect
John Zajch once again is sitting in the Allegheny County Jail on charges of ducking child support payments dating back 18 years to Litchfield County, Conn.
Allegheny County sheriff's deputies say he's one of the county's top deadbeat dads — No. 5 on a list of 50 — and owes $109,781 in support payments.
Zajch, 42, of Mt. Washington has been arrested five times since 2009 for nonsupport, yet county officials say they have little choice but to keep jailing him until he starts to pay.
"This guy, he's a tiny percentage of what we deal with every year," said Judge Kathryn M. Hens-Greco, administrative judge for the county's Family Court Division. "For the system to have some perception out there that we have integrity, people like him have to go to jail."
The sheriff's list of most-wanted deadbeat dads includes 50 men who together owe more than $3.4 million. Seven of them, including Zajch, owe more than $100,000 apiece. Forty-three others owe amounts ranging from $53,448 to $89,516.
In 2009, the most recent year statistics were available, Allegheny County residents owed $131 million in child support, and the Family Division collected $106 million of that. Hens-Greco estimated that about 20 percent goes unpaid each year, but not all of the cases are because of parents like Zajch.
"Times are tough," the judge said. "People lose their jobs, and they just get behind."
Zajch established permanent residence in Allegheny County in 2009. He brought his support woes with him.
"He owed over $100,000 before he even got here," said Lt. Jack Kearney of the sheriff's office. "He owed the money to Connecticut. They were unable to collect it, and when he moved from Connecticut, the case just automatically transferred here."
According to county court records, Zajch was arrested on contempt charges March 23, 2009, and Sept. 9, 2009, and again this year on April 21 and 26. Deputies nabbed him for a fifth time May 6 when he failed to show for a May 2 court hearing. He can't get out of jail unless he pays $5,000, or finds a job where wages can be tracked by the county and he makes regular payments. His child turned 18 in August, so the money won't continue to accrue, but he must pay what he owes, including potential damages or interest.
Hens-Greco said jailing scofflaws defeats the purpose of family court. That's why people like Zajch are given multiple chances to find work and pay what they owe, she said.
"It's only a very minuscule number of people willing to sit in the county jail to avoid making child support payments," she said. "Guys like him, yeah, we're going to follow him. If he doesn't pay what he's promised to pay, yeah, we're going to yank him back. Now he's going to sit in jail until he pays."