OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES

HUNDREDS OF VALLEY MOTHERS PUT THEIR TRUST IN A COLLECTION AGENCY THAT TURNED OUT TO BE A SCAM. THEY AND THEIR CHILDREN ARE THE LOSERS

The new setup didn't make matters better. Robert Hydrick soon left the fold, leaving Star and Struthers to run the operation themselves.

By now, investigators from the State Bar were onto Struthers. The Bar had received complaints from numerous women about his work, or the apparent lack of it. The complaints were similar-Struthers wasn't sending along the money, and he was practically impossible to reach.

Marty Giffin knew only of her own troubles with Child Support Collection Services. Almost a year had passed since she had signed up, and she'd received only a few hundred dollars. Around Christmas 1990, she finally got Struthers on the telephone. Struthers told Marty they had been unable to collect any more from Dennis Giffin, whom, Struthers said, had remarried, fathered two more children, and had undergone bypass surgery.

Marty knew from that description that Struthers was referring to Dennis Giffin's brother, not to Dennis. But she says Struthers testily insisted his information was correct.

On January 14, 1991, Dennis Giffin showed up in Phoenix for a hearing on his failure to pay child support. Struthers didn't contact Marty about the hearing, at which a judge held Dennis Giffin in contempt and ordered him to pay $1,500 in child support by the end of that week or face jail. Dennis Giffin returned to California, where he sent Struthers a check for $150 later that week, then another $150 check in early February.

But Marty didn't know about the checks until she called the courthouse in mid-March. When she learned Dennis had been sending money-even if it was a piddling sum-she called Struthers' office and demanded an appointment with Andy Struthers or Johnny Star. A few days later, she got a check in the mail for $228, issued from Struthers' account.

But Marty still wanted to meet with one of the men. She showed up at the west Phoenix office on March 20, 1991, and waited and waited for Struthers or Star to appear. Finally, she stepped into an office where Star hulked like an angry bear.

"He started to yell at me," Marty recalls, "`I'm sick of you women coming in here crying for your money, then you want out.' Then he started fast-talking me about civil-arrest warrants. I told him I wanted to speak with Mr. Struthers. He pointed to a man sitting beside him, slumped down in his chair. `That's him.' I had never met either of them in person. I looked at Struthers as if to say, `You're my attorney. Please help me.' The worm did nothing."
Johnny Star lost it. "His jowls were flapping, and I never was so scared of anyone in my whole life," Marty says. "He says, `You can just get the hell out of here. If you don't leave, I'll physically remove you. I'll have the police haul off your little ass to jail.'"

Marty says that Star dialed 911 and told police he had a trespasser on his premises. Star hung up and pointed at Struthers: `He said, `Struthers may be the attorney, but this business is mine and these are my premises, and you are trespassing, so get out.'"

Marty heard police sirens as she left the office. "I stopped at a Circle K because I was crying so hard," she says. "I was so confused. I couldn't go to work. I went home and went to bed."

LAST MAY 23, Superior Court Judge Pamela Franks ruled that the collection agency/law firm shouldn't be allowed to do business anymore. Around that time, the State Bar took over Struthers' files. Later the Arizona Supreme Court suspended Struthers from the practice of law.

The State Bar and the Attorney General's Office haven't had contact with Johnny Star in months. The post office returned New Times' letters to Star's last listed address.

Johnny Star's most telling on-the-record statement about the case came in October 1990, during testimony in the early stages of the State Bar's disciplinary case against Andy Struthers.

"Maybe I broke a law, maybe Andy broke a law," Star said then, "but if we did, it was because we were jumping through hoops right and left because [Reana Sweeney] walked out on our clients. That's all there is to it. BS we do not."
A former police officer, Andy Struthers says he is "working in security for a little over minimum wage" for a Phoenix firm. "I do sympathize with the women who say they've been hurt by this," says Struthers.

"I was wearing the white hat-who can be against the enforcement of child support? But I'm not a businessman: I was trained in police work and then in law. I trusted people and I got conned. I'm sorry about what happened."
About the best hope that the many victims have for compensation in this case may be the State Bar's Client Security Fund. The fund allows for up to $100,000 reimbursement to victims of an attorney's "dishonest act or conduct." That's $100,000 for each lawyer, not each victim. With perhaps 600 victims, that averages out to about $166 per client.

Warns the State Bar's Harriet Turney, "The cold, hard facts are that many of these people may never be compensated for what's been taken from them. Struthers' books are so messy, it's hard to determine exactly who is owed what. I'd like to think there's a solution for every problem, but any time you have a scam, people are bound to lose."

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