May 19, 1995Toledo's Alternative Weekly Volume 1. Issue 7
Gerri Stacks The Deck
By D.C. Burch
Geraldine Jensen has been a powerful force when it comes to advocating legislation guaranteeing child-support payments for custodial parents, but former in-laws, spouses and employees paint a picture of a woman who manipulated her personal situation to her advantage.
They say she has done the right things as far as child-support legislation is concerned, but she did it through deceptions, exaggerations and outright lies.
Jensen founded the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support Inc., or ACES, in 1984. The grass-roots group, formed in Toledo with 12 members, has since grown to be a nationwide organization.
Since the organization's inception, though, there have been allegations from former employees and volunteers that Jensen padded membership rosters to make ACES seem larger than it truly was to garn more cash from foundations.
They also allege she filed inaccurate income tax information about ACES' lobbying efforts and managed volunteers and workers deceitfully.
But more recently several sources have claimed that she has, in essence, built the foundation of ACES upon the shifting sands of lies, rather than reality.
According to a 1989 article in The Blade, Jensen started ACES because of problems she experienced collecting back child support from her ex-husband Stephen Gerharter. At the time, she claimed Gerharter owed her $12,000 in support payments. She also told her second husband, Jim Jensen, that Gerharter was "violent, drank a lot, gambled away their money on football betting, which forced them to live in poverty-like conditions, and that she thought he had molested the children [Matthew and Jacob]."
Gerharter disagreed with that assessment of his character.
"The most I've ever been in arrears was in 1986. I received a settlement for an injury that occurred at work, and I paid approximately $10,000. It was what I owed because I had been injured for a year and unemployed after that for three years," Gerharter said.
During the period of unemployment, Gerharter went back to school and earned an associate's degree in electronic components. He claimed that Geraldine was aware of that fact and where he could be reached at all times.
"The original purpose of ACES is good. But I've never been a father who has tried to hide from or avoid paying child support. That is an obligation I had to honor for myself and the boys," Gerharter said.
After their 1977 divorce in Dodge County, Nebraska, Jensen kept the family home with the obligation to make payments on the house and received custody of the two boys. Gerharter was awarded visitation rights to see his sons, according to court records.
Jensen came to Gerharter and told him she had sold the house, was moving to Toledo, and requested him to sign an agreement stating he would continue to make child-support payments, even though she was taking the children out of state.
According to later court documents, Gerharter said Jensen "gave him the agreement to sign five minutes before she left Nebraska. He stated he signed the agreement without advice of counsel because Mrs. [Geraldine] Jensen told him if he refused to sign, he would never see his children again."
Because of the 1,500-mile distance between Nebraska and Toledo, Gerharter said his opportunities to visit his sons were limited, although he did try.
When Gerharter was in Toledo, he said Jensen would either refuse to let him see the children by stating the children already had other plans or would only allow him to see them in her home.
In 1978, Jensen stopped allowing Gerharter's parents, Shirley and Erwin Gerharter of Maumee to see the children or give them gifts.
Stephen Gerharter testified in a later court case that "Mrs. Jensen would not let him talk with his children on the phone, and that the children never received letters he wrote to them," according to court records.
Gerharter freely admits that his child support payments were, at that time, irregular and not up to date, but there was no provision in the divorce decree that would nullify his visitation rights.
Geraldine then married Jim Jensen in 1979 and convinced him that Gerharter was not to be trusted alone with the boys - ever. He said he went along with her because he was in love and "had no reason at that point to doubt her word."
According to Jim Jensen, he deliberately helped Geraldine keep the boys from visiting their natural father, even though the divorce decree granted Gerharter visitation rights.
"We would make travel plans far in advance, so when Stephen called - he was bad at planning in advance - we would already have plans. Then, usually, right before the holiday, we would cancel the plans and not go. This was deliberate - she just wanted to keep Stephen from seeing the boys," Jim Jensen said.
In September of 1979, Geraldine filed a motion in Lucas County Common Pleas Court Probate Division to allow Jim Jensen to adopt the boys. In that case, she alleged that Gerharter had failed to communicate with the children or provide regular child-support payments for a period of one year.
The court allowed the adoption but its decision was overturned on appeal in the Sixth District Court of Appeals of Lucas County, in 1981.
In that case, the court found "that the trial court's determination that Mr. Gerharter failed to support his children without justifiable cause is against the manifest weight of the evidence. The record is clear that since her divorce from Mr. Gerharter, Mrs. Jensen severely limited Mr. Gerharter's opportunities to maintain a relationship with his children.
"First, she moved the children 1,500 miles away from Mr. Gerharter. Mrs. Jensen then refused to let Mr. Gerharter see the children when he was in Toledo, or limited his visitation rights by only permitting him to visit the children in her home. All of this was done without authorization of the court," the records state.
Jim Jensen bolstered the court's finding that Geraldine had hampered Gerharter's visitation.
"When we lived on Royer Street, we had the phone number changed numerous times so he [Gerharter] couldn't find us. She just didn't want him to see the boys at all," he said.
Jim and Geraldine divorced in 1982. After the divorce was final, Jensen reflected and thought about how he had been duped into helping Geraldine keep the children from their father, he said.
"I think it may have been a mistake. We were doing something wrong.
"She wanted Stephen out of the kids' lives because she didn't like Stephen. It was an arbitrary decision on her part, but she hadn't actively pursued support [payments] from Stephen.
"She had, in fact, said she didn't want child support from Stephen because that would give him rights to visitation," Jensen said.
After Jim and Geraldine Jensen's divorce, Jim left the Toledo area. He wondered why he hadn't heard from any of the friends he and Geraldine had made while they were married, and, after making a few phone calls, he found out why.
"Geraldine told everyone I had committed suicide because I was despondent over our divorce," he said.
A decade later, Geraldine had been very successful in her lobbying efforts to have stricter child-support laws put into effect. ACES continued to grow into the powerful, nation-wide organization deadbeat parents fear.
ACES was so successful, In fact, that it drew the attention of ABC-TV. The network executives were so impressed by ACES and Jensen that they decided to make a story into a Movie of the Week called "Abandoned and Deceived."
Geraldine's former father-in-law Erwin Gerharter was so upset by the movie and how it depicted events, he said "I'd like to tell the true story about one scene shown in the movie. The scene shows Gerri at the home of the parents of her ex-husband to pick up Matt and Jake who had been visiting.
"During the visit, their grandparents had taken them shopping for clothes and toys. When Gerri returned to pick up Matt and Jake, the grandparents forced the boys to take off their new clothes and toys and leave them.
"What really happened was that the grandparents sent the boys home with their new clothes, plus a suitcase full of laundered clothes that when brought were too dirty to be worn.
"The movie made no mention of Gerri using the grandparent's car the first winter when her car quit nor that she later bought a car and couldn't get financing without a co-signer. She asked the grandfather [Gerharter] to co-sign, which he did. She told him that her father had refused her," Gerharter said.
Stephen Gerharter saw the movie, too. He thought ABC would portray him worse than they did, because they never contacted him for his side of the story.
"The only reality I saw in the movie was they got the boys' names right and how ACES started. But, the way they portrayed our relationship was a bunch of crap," he said.
"The movie was so full of half-truths. The stuff between her and I was all bogus," Gerharter continued. "We couldn't be in the same room - she'd start cursing and foaming at the mouth.
"Every time we try and have a discussion, it denigrates into profanities and insane accusations. I'd rather have my attorney talk to her attorney; it's much more sane that way," Gerharter said.
Jake and Matthew Gerharter saw the movie in a different light.
"We talked to the people at ABC and signed releases," Jake said.
Jake said the last time he saw his father was in 1994, when he came to Toledo for one day, and he saw Jake play in an all-star football game in Perrysburg.
"I do love my father. I'd love him to come back and spend time with us like they depicted in the movie," Jake said.
When asked why he didn't visit his sons more frequently after he had the adoption order overturned, Stephen Gerharter said he had a dilemma to face.
"Do you tell them, 'Your mother is a liar, or try to get to know them, instead? They were told lies for years by Gerri. Who else were they to believe? I wasn't allowed to see them, so there was really nothing I could do except make sure I paid all the child support their mother was entitled to," Gerharter said.
Although Gerharter thought he was current in his child-support payments since Jacob turned 18 last year, he received a letter from Geraldine Jensen telling him he still owed more money for child support.
The reason he owes more money at this late date is because they were divorced in Dodge County, Nebraska. Gerharter moved to nearby Douglas County, Nebraska and had the original decree moved and registered there, so he could make his child support payments to the agency there.
According to Elaine Anderson, deputy clerk of courts in Dodge County, a mistake was made when the order was moved.
"I don't know how it slipped through the cracks, but Mr. Gerharter still owed $587.49 from 1976. A law was passed here sometime after that, which allowed the state to charge 14-percent interest on back child support. That means he owes $11,155.25 in interest, too," Anderson said.
She also said a letter was sent to Jensen informing her of the oversight and the amount owed. Jensen has since sent a notarized letter to Dodge County waiving her right to collect the interest owed on the principle and stating that she is only interested in collecting the original amount, according to Anderson.
Gerharter said it was a shock to find out he could have had to pay over $11,000 in interest penalties for a debt he didn't even know he owed.
"We had attorneys research the amount of money I owed Geraldine in 1986. They checked all of the counties and courts involved. They gave me a figure, and I paid it. I thought I was done.
"I'm surprised Gerri waived the interest - that just isn't like her. But I'm sure glad she did."
Numerous unsuccessful attempts were made to contact Geraldine Jensen.