It is the largest sweep in the four years since the federal government began pursuing parents who owe large sums of money and have a proven ability to pay.
Sixty-three men, including a former pro football player, were arrested beginning Sunday in cases originating in 23 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each had been indicted already or has a pending criminal complaint for failure to pay court-ordered support. Each man faces a maximum sentence of two years in jail, plus restitution of money owed.
The arrests were carried out by agents from the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General's Office, the U.S. Marshals Service and state and local police.
An additional 39 people had arrest warrants or summons issued but had not yet been arrested, the HHS inspector general said.
"These parents have a demonstrated ability to meet their financial responsibilities to their children, but they have consistently refused to provide the support they owe," said a statement from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson.
Together, the 102 defaulters owe more than $5 million in child support, HHS said, and many of them had fled across state lines and switched jobs multiple times to avoid making payments.
The amount owed by each individual ranged from $7,500 to $297,000. All are at least a year late in their payments, with most having failed to make a single payment in several years.
Among those arrested was James E. Harris, in East. St. Louis, Ill., who played defensive end for the Oakland Raiders from 1998-99, said HHS spokeswoman Judy Holtz. Harris earned more than $1.1 million during his football career and is now the owner of a housing development corporation in Missouri, HHS said. He owes $103,000 and has not made a payment in more than 2½ years, authorities said. Attempts to reach Harris for comment were unsuccessful.
Also taken into custody: an Oklahoma sheet metal worker who has made no payments in 16 years and now owes $297,000; a Tennessee man who works for an engineering company, has not made a payment in nine years and owes $264,000; and a Florida pharmacist who owes $63,000.
HHS said the defendants were chosen for federal action because they were among the most egregious offenders. Authorities focused on parents who live in a different state than their children, have demonstrated the ability to make court-ordered payments and have intentionally refused to do so.
Federal authorities have had jurisdiction over interstate child support cases since 1992. It is a felony to cross state lines to evade a child support obligation that has remained unpaid for longer than a year or is more than $5,000. It is also a felony to willfully fail to pay a child support obligation for a child living in another state if support has gone unpaid for more than two years or is greater than $10,000.
HHS launched a national initiative called "Project Save Our Children" in 1998 to locate deadbeat parents. The project has reviewed more than 4,600 cases referred by state and county child support agencies. Authorities have netted 273 federal arrests and 173 criminal convictions, with nearly $8 million in restitution ordered.
States that initiated the cases include Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.