Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did Debt Collectors Help Cheat Me Out of My Job at UAB?

Substantial evidence indicates that I was cheated out of my job at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) because someone in our state's power structure did not like the content of my blog, which has shined a spotlight on judicial corruption and political prosecutions during the George W. Bush era. Evidence also indicates that my workplace experience involved standard civil-rights issues--age and gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination.

But our recent research raises this question: Did debt collectors play a prominent role in cheating me out of my job at a state institution?

That question not only is troubling for me, but also for all Americans who are concerned about a debt-collection industry that long has played fast and loose with the law. We know that debt collectors have an ugly history of costing people their jobs--and that's one reason the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed in 1978.

More than 30 years after the FDCPA became law, are debt collectors finding new and creative ways to threaten jobs--all in an effort to collect "debts" that they probably cannot prove are owed? Our experience here at Legal Schnauzer indicates the answer to that question probably is yes. And it's possible that we've been victimized by such chicanery twice.

My wife was unlawfully terminated at Infinity Property & Casualty last September, and we've established that it almost certainly was retaliation for her participation in a lawsuit we filed against two debt-collection outfits--Pennsylvania-based NCO and Birmingham law firm Ingram & Associates.

Now we've uncovered information that makes us think debt collectors might have been interfering with our right to earn a living even longer than we originally thought. Did debt collectors--perhaps in conjunction with some of the sleazy legal and political figures in our Legal Schnauzer story--contribute to the many strange events that marked my last year or so at UAB, leading ultimately to my termination?

What caused that question to enter our minds? Well, Mrs. Schnauzer and I have had several people ask us: "What subject on your blog do you think made someone uncomfortable enough to help get you fired at UAB?"

In an effort to answer that question, I went back to the beginnings of this blog and traced topics that I covered from the first post in June 2007 until my termination at UAB on May 19, 2008. Here are some of the topics that come up again and again:

(1) Political prosecutions of the Bush Justice Department, particularly the cases involving former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman and Mississippi attorney Paul Minor;

(2) Judicial and legal corruption in Alabama state courts, much of it connected to people with ties to current GOP Governor Bob Riley;

(3) Our experiences with unethical debt collectors, focusing heavily on the efforts of Ingram & Associates--and its principal, attorney Angie Ingram--to collect a debt I allegedly owed to American Express. One of Ingram & Associates primary tactics was a threat to sell our house "on the courthouse steps";

(4) Threats to auction our cars and house, orchestrated by corrupt lawyer William E. Swatek and Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry. This culminated with a bogus sheriff's sale of our house "on the courthouse steps" on May 12, 2008, one week before I was terminated at UAB.

For months, I've focused on topics No. 1 and 2 as the likely "hot potatoes" that caused me to be fired. And I still think those probably played an important role.

But Mrs. Schnauzer recently was examining some of our numerous legal documents, when a light bulb went off over her head. And it caused her to ponder this: "The people from Ingram & Associates were the first people to threaten to sell our house 'on the courthouse steps.' But the person who actually wound up doing that was Bill Swatek, with help from the Shelby County Sheriff's Department. Is there some connection between the threats by Ingram and the actual sale that Bill Swatek instigated, supposedly on behalf of our troublesome neighbor, Mike McGarity?"

When Mrs. Schnauzer raised this question to me, I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that there might be a connection between Angie Ingram and Bill Swatek. It had never occurred to me that the bogus sale of our house maybe had little to do with Mike McGarity--even though his name was on all the official documents--but was an effort to collect money on Angie Ingram's behalf.

But when I went back and made a timeline, focusing on topics No. 3 and 4, I found that they dovetailed almost perfectly with the strange events that started happening on my job at UAB. And I realized that I might have been fired largely because we refused to cave in to Bill Swatek's threats regarding our house.

Here is something that jumped out in my mind: For months leading up to the sheriff's sale, Deputy Bubba Caudill and his colleague Eddie Moore called us repeatedly to say, "We're getting ready to sell that property." We lost track of how many times they called, but it must have been close to 25. And almost always, they said, "Have you worked things out with the other side? You need to work things out because we're going to sell that property."

In retrospect, this much is clear: They desperately were trying to get me to contact Bill Swatek to "work things out." Why did they want me to contact Bill Swatek? Why did they care?

I had no intention of contacting Bill Swatek for several reasons: (1) I know he's a colossal dirt bag, and I have no interest in dealing with people like him; and (2) As I reported on this blog at the time, I knew the sheriff's sale was a fraud and could not be conducted in a lawful fashion.

Instead of contacting Swatek, Mrs. Schnauzer and I showed up to tape record the bogus sheriff's sale--and captured it for all eternity here on the blog. As a result, we have a sheriff's deed on our house. But our guess is that Swatek didn't get what he really wanted out of the charade.

Is it possible that our refusal to "work something out" with Swatek was a big reason for my termination at UAB, which came one week after the sheriff's sale?

Is it possible that Swatek wanted to "work something out" on behalf of Angie Ingram, to help get her money for American Express?

If Swatek was willing to do such a favor for Angie Ingram, did he want a favor from her in return?

Hmmm, wonder what that might have been?

We will be addressing these questions--and more--in a future post.

(To be continued)


Robby Scott Hill said...

Lawyers and government officials trade everything they have.

This reminds me of the negotiations between The Motion Picture Association of America & the attorneys for Eddie Murphy over the ratings for "RAW" which was going to be rated XXX. That was before Eddie Murphy's lawyers got the rating reduced to R by trading some of his very sexually explicit language and body part grabs for less offensive words and hand gestures. The Lawyers would propose stuff like, "I'll trade you a crotch grab for an f-word." Eddie Murphy would break in, "No, no, no! I need that that crotch grab! So, take that f-word back, but I'll tell you what: in the next part of the routine, I'll give you two n-words for an f-word.

All manner of things get traded during legal negotiations and it's hardly ever the parties to the dispute who get the best deals.

legalschnauzer said...

Funny stuff, Rob. Thanks for sharing.

You've probably taken a legal ethics class or two. Do people just sleep through those classes? I've seen no evidence that lawyers have a clue about ethics. I'm sure those classes present all kinds of high-minded ideals, but I'm not sure I've seen anyone who actually puts them into practice.

Anonymous said...

Is Mrs. Schnauzer going to sue Infinity for her unlawful termination?

legalschnauzer said...

You can count on it.

Anonymous said...

Go get 'em, Mr. and Mrs. Schnauzer!

Robby Scott Hill said...

Funny you should ask Roger. Professor Henry Fowler, the Alabama Lawyer who would become a Staff Attorney for Associate Justice Tom Parker of The Alabama Supreme Court was my Ethics Professor. He actually gave us the answers to the final exam. We had weekly take home quizzes every week before the final exam and Dr. Fowler gave you the answers to the weekly quiz during the following class meeting. Every question on the final exam was taken from the weekly quizzes. Almost everybody got an A in Ethics. If you didn't, it was because you had a bad memory. As you have seen, the Ethics rules are only enforced against the people they want to get rid of. The unfortunate outcome of the adoption of the ethics rules is that they teach lawyers to become even more creative at bending the rules. Lawyers tend to find ways to blame their non-attorney employees with their violations of the rules. It's more cost effective to fire a minimum wage employee than it is to get suspended and lose your ability to bill attorney fees for a year. One lawyer whom I used to work for intentionally kept a convicted felon on the payroll and he made that person do the books so he would have somebody to blame if the client trust account didn't balance.

legalschnauzer said...

An ethics teachers helped his students cheat on tests? That's a classic. And why am I not surprised that lawyers would try to blame their ethics violations on non-lawyer employees. You and I need to write a book someday about what really goes on in Alabama law firms. I would love to write an insider's story about a place like Haskell Slaughter or Bradley Arant. And God only knows what some of these smaller renegade firms actually pull.

Barbara Ann Jackson said...

I am sorry about what happened to you. I can attest to appalling debt collection behavior, as I remain astonished and debilitated because of SAVAGE, PRIVACY INVASIVE and DISHONEST conduct of debt collectors and foreclosure mills. Primarily, I also tell my story in hopes that debt collection and judicial collusion reforms will occur. I AM CERTAIN THAT, whether or not a person owes a debt or defaults in payments, it is not against the law to owe a debt, but it is against the law to collect a debt in an unlawful manner. It is SO UNFORTUNATE that lawmakers disregard the devastation that misuse of authority to collect debt --along with judicial collusion-- imposes on scores of people's lives. I tell my story: "Some Home Foreclosures are Actually Disguised Real Estate Extortions, " because debt collection has caused me debilitating harms. I WISH YOU THE VERY BEST.

Anonymous said...

Roger: Take a look at this:

Then contact someone at the Trial Lawyers Association like Ken Suggs or somebody like Ron Motley whose firms can get you to the right person who will bring the appropriate RICO action or something similar. And quit talking about this on your blog. I can see that you're putting out some information to get some folks talking on the phone but for goodness sake, unless you know who's getting all that info down for to eventually make yourself a national celebrity with a big wallet, just get the a good lawyer.

Robby Scott Hill said...

I can't name the firms or my source, but when wireless Internet was brand new back in the early 2000s, the staff of a major law firm in Montgomery was caught accessing and downloading the confidential files of a competitor over an unsecured wireless network. At first, Judge Price's staff wrote off the suspicions by assuming the two firms were just copying from the same Westlaw forms CD and that was the explanation for why the fonts, formatting and much of the legaleese in their pleadings were virtually identical. Then, one of their legal assistants was struggling to meet a deadline and she forgot to remove some of the client specific facts and even the other firm's mailing address on a pleading. Her lawyer supervisor put his "John Henry" in the signature block without proofing the document and he submitted it for filing and public inspection. At that point, The State Bar became involved. What's even more shocking is that at about the same time The Attorney General's Office under Bill Pryor also had an unsecured wireless network. When I worked for the state back in 2003-2004, you could park your car in front of The State House and get into some of the Attorney General's files. They secured all the state's computers not long after that.

Anonymous said...

You are a moron. You say in this article that your wife was unlawfully terminated. However, in a previous post, you say she was terminated because she was accused of being tardy and absent. Even if she was never tardy or absent, and that was the excuse her employer used to fire her, that would not be unlawful. An Alabama employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all, as long as the reason is non-discriminating. Maybe you should go to law school before adding "Legal" to your name, Schnauzer.

legalschnauzer said...

Ah, you lawyers, always trying to protect the tribe. I love it. Perhaps you are a newcomer, but I have written in numerous posts that my wife was over 40 and female, while a number of her male/younger coworkers were allowed to work flex schedules and could be as tardy as they wanted, with no repercussions. That is discrimination, via age and gender. Also, her lawsuit alleges that she was terminated because she was to testify in a legal case, and that is not lawful. Keep trying, but I know the law better than you.