After suffering severe spine and head injuries several years ago while serving in the U.S. Army, Michael Collier was declared 100 percent disabled, a point a debt collector allegedly decided to use against him during what sounds like the most awful phone call ever.
Trouble for Collier and his wife, Kim, began when a Minnesota-based law firm and debt collection agency “illegally garnished their savings to cover a defaulted student loan and verbally abused them when they asked for their money back,” Gawker’s Neetzan Zimmerman reports.
As a disabled Army vet, Collier’s Social Security payments are exempt from debt garnishment. However, the law firm Gurstel Chargo, which has since released a statement on this story, took funds from Kim’s savings account anyway to pay off a $6,000 defaulted student loan.
“At a court hearing back in May, a judge ordered Kim's credit union to unfreeze her assets effective immediately after definitively declaring that her account was exempt from garnishment,” Zimmerman reports.
But it wasn’t going to be that easy for Collier. After the judge made his decision, a Gurstel employee told the disabled vet he would need to get a lawyer if he wanted to "get his money back," according to a complaint filed on behalf of the Arizona couple. Collier decided that this was getting out of hand and figured he’d call and try to sort things out over the phone.
This is the point where everything reportedly went to pieces.
The complaint alleges the following conversation took place between Collier and an unidentified Gurstel Chargo paralegal:
During this conversation, after Michael told the legal assistant that the funds were exempt veteran disability payments, the assistant told Michael “F- - - you! Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces you’re a- -. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off social security while the rest of us honest Americans work our a- - off. Too bad; you should have died.”
Good grief. That’s so awful, we're having a difficult time believing this actually happened. But then again, some debt collectors can be awfully, um, "unorthodox."
At any rate, as Zimmerman notes, by allegedly abusing Collier, Gurstel violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits harassment or abuse in the collection of a debt.
And you better believe Collier is taking them to court. Here’s a copy of the complaint:
And here’s Gurtsel Chargo's statement on this story:
We learned late last week of the lawsuit filed by Michael Andrew Collier and Kim Collier-Dingman. Gurstel Chargo takes the allegations made in the lawsuit very seriously and we have immediately launched an internal investigation to determine the facts. We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the Complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm. We expect that all Gurstel Chargo employees fully comply with all state and federal laws, and we thoroughly train our employees to perform their job in a lawful and respectful manner. Under no circumstances does our firm tolerate the type of conduct alleged in the Complaint.
The Complaint states that the wrongful remarks were made during a telephone call. We have requested from the attorney that filed the Complaint the phone number of the phone that Mr. Collier was allegedly on, an approximate date on which the call occurred, whether the person who made the alleged wrongful comments was male or female, all in order to help us to get to the truth about what occurred. We have been informed by Mr. Collier's attorney that he is unaware of any of this information. To date, we have discovered no information to substantiate the allegations, but our investigation continues. Should these allegations prove to be true, we will take immediate corrective and disciplinary action.
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