Mesa couple arrested in child custody fraud case - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

Mesa couple arrested in child custody fraud case

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Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 8:39 am | Updated: 8:50 am, Fri Nov 30, 2012.

A Mesa couple claimed to be licensed counselors helping families in need, now they stand accused of bilking taxpayers.

Ciara and Michael Coultrap ran Legacy Family and Children's Services out of their home and acted as court mediators.

Investigators say Ciara Coultrap said she had a doctoral degree and was a professional therapist, when she was neither.

According to deputies, Coultrap has three undergraduate degrees from ASU in biology, psychology and communication, but no doctorate degree.

Sheriff Arpaio said in a news conference Wednesday that the Coultraps are being investigated for other crimes that include taking kickbacks to trump up phony evidence to sway custody cases.

"We are looking into all aspects of it, this is the initial stage and we don't know how far this will go," Arpaio said.

"I believe my case was for sale and I believe many other cases are for sale," said Marissa Prins Verburg.

Verburg was ordered by the court to take her son to the Coultrap's home for supervised visits with his father.

But she said she isn't sure the Coultraps were actually supervising the visits, and believes her son was abused during a visit.

"It was advocacy for hire, If you pay 'x' amount of dollars, I will guarantee you custody," Verburg said.

Four victims have come forward claiming fraud including Gerald and Nisha Chernomas.

The Chernomas gained temporary custody of their granddaughters after their daughter's death.

At the time she had a court order against their father.

"We were bringing these kids up from everything to teaching them to read, taking them to daycare and doctors." said Gerald.

Gerald told reporters the biological father's attorney suggested they use Legacy Family and Children's Services.

The Coultraps allegedly supervised visits with the girls and their biological father, but also allegedly provided counseling services to the elder girl.

Gerald told reporters his eldest granddaughter was in bed with her mother when she died and took care of her one-and-a-half year old sister for over a day until they were discovered.

Within two weeks of dropping the girls off for visits, Gerald said he got a gut feeling something was wrong.

"Their goal was to collect money from the other side, because the party would have paid them to win the case," Gerald said.

According to Gerald, the Coultraps came to court with false accusations that he molested his granddaughters.

As a result, the Chernomas lost custody of their granddaughters.

"I was angry, these were our granddaughters they lived with us, we loved them," Gerald said.

Gerald said he has an email from Ciara Coultrap to the opposing attorney proving possible conflict of interest and possible collaborations between the two.

"She writes to the attorney, 'Your case is won, your case is W-O-N' before the actual hearing," Gerald said.

Ciara and Michael Coultrap were both arrested and booked into the Maricopa County Jail.

At the time of this writing it is still unknown how many charges they will face, although Arpaio said it could be as many as 30.

Arpaio added there could be hundreds of victims and is asking anyone who had relations with the Coultraps to come forward.

If you think you might have been a victim, call the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office at 602-876-1833.

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