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March 29, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

This post is about yet another form of paternity fraud reported on here (Des Moines Register, 3/27/15). We’ve seen the usual kinds in which (a) a woman tells a man he’s the father of her child when he’s not or (b) a woman tells a man he’s not the father of her child when he is. In the latter case, it’s more common for her to simply not tell him about the child at all.

But in those cases of paternity fraud, there’s actually a child; in the case today, there’s not.

It seems that Johna Vandermore went online to meet a man. She did and had a brief fling with him. She then told him she was pregnant and demanded money for child support. Vandermore did all this while she was married. Her online paramour lived in a different state.

To back up her claims, Vandermore gave the man a fake birth certificate from a hospital that doesn't exist, according to court documents. Vandermore sent the man pictures of her cousin's daughter and claimed it was their child.

Over a six-year period, he dutifully paid “child” support in the amount of $1,000 per month. He also paid extras as Vandermore demanded them. One of those was for a non-existent doctor visit.

He agreed to help support the non-existent child with $1,000 monthly payments sent to a post office box in Bettendorf.

The man also agreed to pay for any expenses and would send money around holidays and the fake child's made-up birthday. Vandermore also falsified a medical bill in an effort to get more money. In total, the man made more than 90 payments to Vandermore between 2007 and 2013.

Eventually, Vandermore’s husband wondered where all the money – over $95,000 – was coming from. She claimed it was from her job selling Herbalife dietary supplements.

Just who blew the whistle on Vandermore’s scam isn’t clear, but however it happened, she was eventually charged with multiple federal and state felonies. Using the U.S. mail to defraud is considered a no-no and Vandermore was charged and pleaded guilty.

A married Maquoketa woman who faked a pregnancy to swindle $95,850 from a man will spend 18 months in prison.

Johna Loreen Vandermore, 34, was sentenced to prison by U.S. District Court Judge Stephanie Rose on Friday, and was also ordered to pay back the money she took from the victim. Vandermore pleaded guilty to mail fraud in December.

Amazingly, her attorney, Donovan Robertson, tried to spin Vandermore’s intentional, calculated wrongdoing as, in some way, not her fault.

In a sentencing brief, Vandermore's defense attorney wrote that the Maquoketa woman initially really did believe she was pregnant and sought the first payments to help with birth expenses.

The scheme simply continued on its "own inertia" after Vandermore realized she wasn't pregnant, wrote defense attorney Donovan Robertson. The scheme could have been caught quicker if the man had tried to be more involved in his fake child's life, possibly by requesting an in-person visit, Robertson wrote.

"These things are not intended to foist responsibility of the victim, but, to show the ease with which a house of cards could have been toppled," Robertson wrote.

If that’s not trying to place at least part of the blame on the victim, I don’t know what it is. As with all such schemes, the best person to put a stop to it is the person who started it, in this case, Vandermore. On any day for six years, she could have come clean, but she never did. Only one person is responsible for this crime – Johna Vandermore.

And the idea that she at first “thought she was pregnant” looks bogus to me. My guess is that she went online to find, not a lover, but a mark. My guess is that she planned this from the start.

But what’s most interesting about this case is the realization that, if we were to simply alter a couple of facts of the case, Vandermore’s behavior would have been entirely legal.

First of course there would have had to have been an actual child. Although I don’t know the details of child support law in every state, my guess is that, in every one, if one person convinces another to pay support for a child who doesn’t exist, that person will at the very least be civilly liable and probably criminally so.

So the first message to future fraudsters is that there has to be a real flesh-and-blood child.

Vandermore’s second mistake was using the U.S. mail to accomplish her scheme. As I said before, using the mail to commit pretty much any crime makes it a federal offense that the FBI tends to take seriously. So, lesson number two is to have the payoffs made some other way. FedEx or UPS would do nicely.

So if Vandermore had just made those two elementary changes in her scheme to defraud, she’d have been home free. She could have had a child with her husband for example, and made some serious bank plus having her own child into the bargain.

All of that is because paternity fraud, unlike all other kinds of fraud, violates no law either criminal or civil in the overwhelming majority of states. To date, only six even recognize a civil cause of action for paternity fraud and none criminalizes the practice.

So in fact, lesson number two above is probably unnecessary. A person can use the U.S. mail to do pretty much anything as long as it’s legal and paternity fraud is nothing if not legal.

In a nutshell, telling a man a child is his when there is no child, in order to get money from him, is illegal. But if there is one, telling a man your child is his when you know it’s not, in order to get his money, is perfectly fine. Clear?

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