A court ruled that a Texas man is responsible for more than $65,000 in child support despite not being the biological father of the child in question.
Gabriel Cornejo, a father of three who also raises two of his brother's children, found out last year that he was liable for tens of thousands in unpaid child support payments. The child belongs to his ex-girlfriend, who submitted the paternity suit in 2003 without his knowledge, according to KTRK. He says he has only met the child once.
Despite not being the child's father, he is still on the hook for payment because he didn't contest the suit when it was filed nearly 15 years ago.
"I never thought in my whole life I would have to defend myself or something that I am innocent of," he said.
When deputies arrived at Cornejo's door with the court papers in 2016, claiming he was the father of a now 15-year-old girl, he, his current wife, and his ex-girlfriend all decided he should undergo a paternity test.
"The results came in," he said. "I'm not the father."
But the results had little effect on the court's final ruling. In 2003, Cornejo's ex filed the paternity suit saying that Cornejo was the only possible father. The state began assessing child support payments which, over nearly a decade and a half, total $65,000.
Cornejo said these rulings occurred without his knowledge. Court records suggest a subpoena was issued, but he denies he ever received it.
Making matters worse, his ex-girlfriend's lawyer also claims child support was initially taken from Cornejo's paycheck years ago and he didn't fight it.
"Don't stick your head in the sand," said the ex's lawyer, Carel Stith. "It won't go away and there can be consequences even if you don't do anything."
Cornejo filed a complaint with Republican Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, according to the Daily Mail. The governor responded, saying child support enforcement is out of his jurisdiction.
"Our office works with [the Office of the Attorney General of Texas], but we have no authority to direct its activities or act on complaints about the agency," wrote Abbott's office.
Now, Cornejo and his lawyer hope they can convince a judge to take a second look at the case. If the case isn't reopened, Cornejo will either have to make payments or face jail time. He hopes that, no matter the outcome of his case, his story can be used to prevent this situation from happening in the future
"They say he should have fought back then and he failed to do so," said Cornejo's lawyer, Cheryl Coleman, told KTRK. "But how can you fight something you don't know anything about?"