Hell hath no fury like a person using a public agency to torment a disliked relative or acquaintance.
Conscripting government workers to wage personal vendettas takes myriad forms: Women embittered by divorce settlements tell the IRS that an audit of their ex-husbands’ returns may prove fruitful.
Others make knowingly false allegations to law enforcement, or grouse to agencies mandated to investigate complaints.
While it’s impossible to determine how widespread the problem is, numbers from Administration for Children’s Services offer some hint of its potential scope. In 2009, no indication of abuse or neglect was found in 57.9 percent of the 59,249 investigations done by Administration for Children’s Services.
Most complaints are lodged by people with genuine concerns, said Michelle Conklin, a vice president of SSEU-Local 37, who worked as an ACS caseworker for 10 years. But phony reports are also called in by vindictive noncustodial parents and relatives, and by cranky neighbors seeking to punish parents whose children trespass or make noise, she said.
Ann, 58, an Upper West Side writer, was victimized by one such report.
After her landlord determined that the downstairs neighbor’s complaint of noise from Ann’s apartment was unfounded, the woman called ACS and alleged that Ann was an unfit mother.
The two-month investigation “was incredibly invasive,” recalled Ann, who requested anonymity for fear of re-igniting the neighbor’s wrath.
“My daughter and son were upset and humiliated,” to be subjects of an investigation that included interviews with their teachers and pediatricians. ACS workers “even called my doctor to see what meds I was taking,” Ann recalled.
When investigators determined that there was no evidence of neglect or abuse, Ann’s tormentor then contacted Adult Protective Services and claimed that Ann was unable to care for herself, embroiling her family in yet another meritless investigation.
Agencies are in a Catch 22 when it comes to malicious complaints. “We really can’t not take things seriously. We’re required by law to investigate,” explained ACS spokesman Michael Fagan.
Falsely reporting an incident is a Class A misdemeanor, but neither Fagan nor the Manhattan DA could provide any numbers or information about people prosecuted for making false reports.
A spokesperson for NYC’s Independent Budget Office said no one had ever examined how much money was gobbled up investigating bogus complaints. Ann, however, wagers it’s a fortune: “As a taxpayer, I was totally outraged by the money and time spent on my kids by the city when there are so many kids who are truly abused.”