Sunday, December 12, 2004
Ex-husband Paid $20,000 To Support Nonexistent Daughter
By Carolyn Carlson
Journal Staff Writer
On the surface, Steve Barreras looked like another deadbeat dad.
He'd been hauled into court and had his wages garnisheed. He and his new wife had lost their 2003 tax refund to pay child support. He had been peppered with threats and demands for money for a child he supposedly fathered five year ago.
But this legal case had one big problem. Last week, a judge ruled the child does not exist even though Barreras had already paid $20,000 in support.
In what was apparently an elaborate ruse, the alleged mother orchestrated fake DNA evidence and forged a Social Security number and birth and baptismal certificates, court records show.
In the strangest twist of all, Viola Trevino on Monday brought a stranger's child to court, alleging it was her daughter. Under consideration in Judge Linda Vanzi's courtroom was a motion filed in September to reopen the couple's 1999 divorce on Barreras's request that the child be produced.
Trevino had been ordered to bring the girl to court, but instead she picked up a 2-year-old girl and her grandmother from a South Valley street, promising them a trip to see Santa Claus and $50.
After feeding them hamburgers, she parked near the courthouse, where she left the grandmother in the car and took the child into court. When the grandmother followed her into court, Trevino had to admit that the child was not hers.
"I have seen hundreds of jury trials and I have never seen anything like this," Rob Perry, Barreras' attorney, said.
Trevino, 52, who Barreras says had a tubal ligation in 1978, has contended that she gave birth to the girl in September 1999 and that Barreras, her ex-husband, was the father.
Barreras, 47, who says he had a vasectomy in 1998, has denied being the father ever since Trevino told a family court judge in December 1999 that she had given birth three months earlier.
Paternity tests were ordered, and, in February 2001, Barreras was ordered to pay Trevino child support.
Trevino and Barreras were legally divorced in August 1999. No minor children or pregnancy were mentioned in divorce papers. Trevino and Barreras had been married since 1976 and had two children a girl named Eve and a boy named Adam who in 1999 were over the age of 18.
In December 1999, Trevino was in court asking for child support and told the judge she had given birth to Barreras' child on Sept. 3, 1999.
In January 2000, the court ordered paternity tests. When Barreras received the bill, from Mobile Blood Services, it came in the name of his then 22-year-old daughter, Eve.
Barreras continued to protest that he could not father a child because of his vasectomy.
In June 2000, during a deposition, Trevino said the child was born at St. Joseph's Hospital. That same month, a court ordered her to bring in the birth certificate, but she did not.
Court documents show that, in 2000, Eve Barreras was fired from St. Joseph's Northeast Hospital after she was caught attempting to create documents pertaining to the birth of a Stephanie Trevino. Eve admitted sending false documents to Vital Statistics and said she did it because Trevino asked her to do it, the records show.
Viola Trevino and Eve Barreras could not be reached for comment.
Also in June 2000, another DNA paternity test was ordered, but, this time, Trevino was told to have it done by a private doctor, not Mobile Blood Services.
Again, Trevino did not obey the court order and instead went back to Mobile Blood Services to have the test done.
Court records show that both DNA tests were done by a friend of Eve, the couple's daughter. The friend, Pamela Flores, worked at the lab at the time, records show.
The DNA tests were performed by taking saliva swabs from Trevino, Barreras and the alleged child.
"It is believed Ms. Flores falsely obtained the saliva samples of Eve Barreras and misrepresented them to be from a child that was produced during the test by Viola Trevino," Perry said in court documents.
David Quintana, owner of Mobile Blood Services, denied any wrongdoing on the part of his company.
"If there was any fraud done, it did not come from us," Quintana said Friday.
He said he has known Flores and her family for a long time and confirmed that Flores and Eve Barreras are friends.
"(Flores) is the most honest person I can think of," he said. "But if this did happen, it happened without my knowledge."
Quintana said Flores has not been employed by his company for several years and left to pursue other employment. Flores could not be reached for comment Friday.
Perry said that, because of the DNA matches, the Child Enforcement Division garnisheed Barreras' paycheck, forcing him to pay child support.
How Trevino was able to get a baptismal certificate, a Social Security number and Medicaid coverage for the alleged child is unknown. But based on the baptismal certificate and the Social Security number she obtained, on Oct. 27 the state issued her a birth certificate for a Stephanie Renee Trevino, according to New Mexico Vital Records and Statistics.
Perry said the Child Support Enforcement Division of the state Human Services Department is to blame for the five-year ordeal his client has gone through.
"How can this happen? It is like a plane wreck caused by a cascading series of events," Perry said.
Betina Gonzales McCracken, spokeswoman for the department, said her agency is not to blame.
In this case, the division was enforcing a court order for payment of child support, Gonzales McCracken said.
"There are two different ways we handle child support enforcement," she said. "One is when someone comes to us first and we start the case from the beginning. The other is like in this case, when they come to us to enforce a court order for child support. In this case, we were following a judge's order."
She said that, when they got a tip that there might be fraud in this case, the division took it seriously and investigated.
They contacted Trevino and ordered her to bring the child in for more paternity tests. Trevino did not respond or comply, so the division closed the case in October without further investigation.
Vanzi's ruling has prompted Gov. Bill Richardson to ask for a full investigation.
"The Governor's Office has asked the Human Services for a complete report on what happened to make sure this mistake is never repeated," Billy Sparks, Richardson's spokesman, said Friday.