Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have collected more than $270,000 of the $700,000 that a corrupt telemarketer was ordered by a judge in 2001 to pay in restitution. The money is supposed to go to more than 100 victims, says Copley News Service. Of the money collected, nearly $70,000 is being held by the court because the victims haven’t kept in contact with the government, and officials can’t find them. In hundreds of cases, court officials are stymied in keeping tabs on crime victims who are due money. In the Los Angeles federal court district alone, roughly $4.7 million is waiting to be claimed by more than 6,000 victims.
The federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act requires “full and timely restitution.” The wheels of justice can turn so slowly — and some criminals are so skilled at hiding their assets — that it takes years before restitution can be paid. Court officials say time, staffing and workload volume are the key obstacles they face in trying to locate crime victims. Under federal law, it is the responsibility of victims to notify officials if they move. “It’s a sad situation,” said Sherri Carter, the Los Angeles federal court clerk. “Everyone’s trying to do their best. It’s a complicated process because of the length of time it takes to investigate the case, then collect the money.” Unsent money remains with the clerk’s office for five years and then is transferred to the federal treasury, where it remains designated for the identified victim. The large amount of collected but unpaid restitution pales in comparison with what convicted criminals owe. In 2002, the U.S. Justice Department reported that nationally about $25 billion in “criminal debt” went uncollected. Susan Howley of the National Center for Victims of Crime said Congress has asked federal agencies to develop a plan to make convicts pay up.