Deadbeat dodges jail, judge orders electronic bank transfers

WAUKESHA -- A deadbeat dad who owes nearly $230,000 in child support is back in front of a Waukesha County judge for the first time since a FOX6 investigation exposed his 20-year history of dodging his responsibilities.

Frank Donnelly has never had a problem finding the money to buy into high-stakes poker games at local casinos, but a FOX6 investigation found he has a "horrendous" history of paying his court-ordered child support.  In fact, Donnelly has dodged his obligations for so long, his four young children are now fully-grown adults.

On Thursday (March 1, 2012), Donnelly was back in front of a Waukesha County Family Court Commissioner for a review of his now 22-year-old divorce case, facing an ex-wife who is fed up.

"He had the money," said Sondra Safer, the mother of Donnelly's four children.  "He chose not to pay it."

Donnelly is a former IRS agent who abruptly quit his job in 1993, citing medical issues.  A judge found that he had no legitimate reason to quit, and instead found that he was "shirking his obligation" to support his children.

Nearly 20 years later, his child support arrears total more than $227,000 dollars in principal and interest combined.

"One of the reasons he hired me," said Robin Shellow, Donnelly's attorney, "is to make this smaller.  This war has to end.  We're trying to end the war."

Shellow made a motion to reduce her client's total arrears, in part because of his failing health.  She says Frank Donnelly has suffered three heart attacks and one kidney transplant, among other ailments in recent years.

Waukesha County Family Court Commissioner Linda McKenzie Georgeson declined to reduce the arrears, but also refused to jail Donnelly for failing to show up at prior court hearings or responding to warrants for his arrest.

"Let's get real," Georgeson said.  "I am not interested in having the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin pay for your medical care in a jail setting."

The commissioner increased the monthly amount Donnelly is required to pay toward the child support arrears from $2,000 to $2,245 - which represents exactly two-thirds of Donnelly's veterans disability check.

In addition, the court ordered that Donnelly set up an automatic electronic transfer of funds from his account to his ex-wife's bank account, to ensure that he pays what's been ordered.  Failure to pay the new amount could subject Donnelly to the same 180-day jail sentence that the court declined to impose on Thursday.

After the hearing, Sondra Safer told the FOX6 Investigators that she finally feels like her voice is being heard, "but only because there's a television camera behind me."  Donnelly's attorney referred to the media "spotlight" on more than one occasion during her oral testimony.

Frank Donnelly is due back in criminal court next Thursday, March 8th.  Meanwhile, he is free on $20,000 bond.