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)