GRAND RAPIDS — The state attorney general’s office has prosecuted thousands of parents for failing to pay child support, but none of those has been as “outrageous” as the claims — and children — piling up for Howard Veal.
The Muskegon man has fathered 23 children with 14 women, and is more than $533,000 in arrears in his child-support payments, according to the attorney general’s office, which has been pushing a case against Veal — tied to two of those children — in Kent County Circuit Court.
On Thursday, Judge Dennis Leiber sentenced Veal, 44, to two to four years in prison for failure to pay child support, a felony. With this sentence, the judge far exceeded the state guidelines, which called for Veal to get no more than six months in the county jail.
“You are the poster child for irresponsibility,” Leiber told Veal, who appeared surprised by the sentence. “You’re an insult to every responsible father who sacrifices to provide for their children.”
“I was stunned and amazed,” said Leiber of the scope of Veal’s fatherhood, and his failure to pay anything but a scant amount to most of the mothers.
“Animals procreate, human beings are supposed to nurture their children.”
The case Veal was sentenced on stemmed from his guilty plea in July to owing more than $60,000 in child support to Grand Rapids resident Sherri Black, to whom he made one $87.75 payment over the course of seven years, according to the attorney general’s office.
“The Attorney General’s Child Support Division has prosecuted thousands of felony nonsupport cases since its inception, but none as outrageous as this,” said Assistant Attorney General Mitchell Wood in a memo asking Leiber to exceed the guidelines for Veal’s sentence.
Wood said their investigation revealed that between 1989 and 1999, Veal impregnated at least one woman every year. “Incredibly, in three of those years, the defendant impregnated three women per year …,” the memo said.
Wood said Veal was unable to remember the names of several of his children and could not say specifically how many he fathered.
For a few months at the end of 2009, Veal got a job working for the Muskegon Housing Commission and some money was taken from his check that went to make portions of support payments. But the total back payments was not touched, investigators claim.
However, even those meager funds never made it to their intended recipients. According to the attorney general’s memo, authorities believe when Veal did pay some child support, he was trying to divert a portion of that to Loretta Noble, the mother of four of his children with whom he lives.
“In addition, he is likely hiding assets to avoid the reach of the Friend of the Court,” it states.
Wood wrote that Noble has a home built in 1995 and has two cars registered in her name, including a 1994 Mercedes Benz S420.
Reached Thursday, Noble said she has been in a relationship with Veal for 25 years. She said she warned Veal when they were younger that he would have to pay the piper one day for his sexual activity. But she said he does not deserve prison time, and was stunned by his sentence.
She said he turned over a new leaf and was being part of his children’s lives.
“He’s trying to overcome to be a better man,” she said.
In court Thursday, Veal questioned the attorney general’s tally of his children and also claimed he had tried to be responsible, sacrificing up to 65 percent of his earnings.
“I was paying money from my unemployment,” Veal said. “I never chose not to pay.”
Attorney Norman Miller argued that prison is not appropriate for his client, who has no criminal record and was seeking training to become employed so he could support his children.
But the judge was unmoved. He said Veal’s behavior warranted prison time because he was unlikely to ever make a substantial dent in what he owes.
There are 14 Friend of the Court cases against him in Kent and Muskegon counties, and Veal could be facing more charges.
Black, the 38-year-old mother of two of Veal’s children, ages 16 and 11, was delighted to see Veal going to prison, but she said getting the money would have been better.
“I’d rather have him pay the money,” she said. “Now my taxes will go to support him in prison.”
She said she met Veal in Grand Rapids when she was a young woman and he took care of her until it came time to support their children.
“My daughter doesn’t even know him,” she said.
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