Paternity tester does his hunting with a cotton swab

Sunday, February 5, 2006

PEORIA, Ill. -- J.R. Friedrich is a successful big game hunter, but his most useful weapon is a cotton swab -- considering the bulk of his business deals with paternity testing.

"It's not all Maury Povich," say Friedrich, 51, referring to the daytime talk show host's parodied, and pilloried, paternity testing segments.

Though confidentiality is an obvious selling point, his truck advertises the company name -- Mobex Inc., mobile paternity testing. He offers items promoting the business "guaranteed results" within 48 hours.

As with most paternity testers, including the local chapter of the American Red Cross, Friedrich doesn't perform the actual test. He collects DNA samples, then mails them to a testing laboratory in Cincinnati. Still, he has traveled throughout central Illinois taking samples for those who want, or need, the convenience -- or the secrecy -- of in-home DNA testing.

"I tell people they might not get the answer they want, but they'll get a reliable answer," he says.

Friedrich has collected samples -- which basically consist of swabbing the cheek with a Q-tip -- in hospitals, prisons, living rooms, even a McDonald's. That case, he says, involved a man and a woman, living in two different cities, who had always wondered if they were brother and sister.

For convenience's sake, they agreed on a central meeting point in Bloomington.

"I drove over there, parked my truck, they came in, and I did a 'McSwab,'" he jokes.

Friedrich estimates 95 percent of his business is mobile. However, he will collect DNA samples in his office.

"There's a huge demand," he says. "It's estimated over 300,00 tests were done last year, and 100,000 came back negative."

Mobex's standard price is $425 total to test a mother, child and alleged father. However, the charge can fluctuate, depending on the distance Friedrich travels and the price of gas.

Collecting samples is simple, says C.J. LeMasters, a nurse and director of operations at Interim. But she and Friedrich stress the importance of following strict procedures to make sure the people being tested are who they say they are.

While collecting DNA samples may be a simple process, both LeMasters and Friedrich say the circumstances that lead people to paternity testing rarely are.

"It's a different world; you don't realize how many babies are out there with unknown parentage," LeMasters says. "It's amazing to see the webs people get themselves into."

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