'America's most-wanted deadbeat dad' caught in failed Alberta cherry pit scam
Published Friday, February 23, 2018 9:40AM EST
A man dubbed “America’s most-wanted deadbeat dad” has been arrested thanks to the sharp wits of a small-town Alberta restaurateur, who managed to identify the man after he suspected he was being scammed.
Joseph Stroup, 64, appeared in a Chicago courtroom last week to face charges related to more than US$560,000 in unpaid child support. The divorced father of four sold his internet business for $2 million, but hasn’t paid child support since 1996, according to the U.S. Office of the Inspector General. He eventually climbed to the top of the Inspector General’s list of most-wanted deadbeat dads, but didn’t turn up again until last November in Bearspaw, Alta., where he was caught living under the name “Joop Cousteau.”
Restaurant owner Scott Winograd fingered the wanted man through a carefully-laid trap that he set once he realized he was being duped by a wanted man, who seemed to have been laying low in the small Alberta community.
Winograd says Stroup loved to drop in to the Bear’s Den restaurant and brag about himself, claiming to be a former doctor and Oxford University graduate who “got bored” and became a vice-president at Google.
“He was an odd duck, there was no question about that,” Winograd told CTV News.
Winograd didn’t think anything of his new regular customer until one day in November, when the man ordered a cherry coke with eight maraschino cherries in it.
“Ten minutes after he called Joe the server over, and said: ‘I bit down on a Maraschino cherry pit and I broke some dental work,” Winograd said. “He was very adamant that he had $65,000 worth of dental work in his mouth, and he passed what looked like a cherry pit off to the server.”
Maraschino cherries are often used for cocktails and are typically sold with the pits removed, Winograd pointed out.
Winograd says the man came back the next day with a handwritten form outlining a hefty bill for his “damaged” dental work. Winograd took note of the name on the form and looked up “Joop Cousteau” on Google.
Winograd found a Facebook page set up by U.S. law enforcement under the name Joop Cousteau, with a mugshot of the wanted man. “Joop Cousteau is the alias used by Joseph W. Stroup,” said a post on the page from May 6, 2015. The post included a link to Stroup’s entry on the Status of Deadbeats list.
The photo closely resembled the man who had sat in front of Winograd at the bar over the last few months, but Winograd wanted to be sure, so he laid a trap.
Winograd says he invited the man back to the restaurant for a free meal at the counter, where he would be in full view of the surveillance cameras. He also instructed servers to make sure they stayed out of the camera’s line of sight so he could get a clear look at the man.
“I studied all his features and I knew within minutes that this was definitely the guy,” Winograd said.
Winograd reviewed his security footage afterward, grabbed a screenshot of the man he suspected was Stroup, and noted down the licence plate of the vehicle the man was using. Then he called law enforcement in Canada and the U.S.
“Within an hour the FBI, the U.S. Marshals and the Inspector General all called,” he said.
The man was arrested a short while later and extradited to the U.S. He appeared in court in Chicago, but is expected to be transferred back to Massachusetts to stand trial.
Winograd downplayed his role in catching the suspected deadbeat. “All I did was make a phone call,” he said. “But I’m glad that the family finally has some closure.”
With files from CTV Calgary