HOUSTON – Houston resident Paul Aker was flabbergasted when seven U.S. Marshals knocked on his door last Thursday in full combat gear, automatic assault rifles in hand.
“I was wondering, why are you here? I’m home and I haven’t done anything, and why are the Marshals knocking on my door,” he told Fox 26. “It’s amazing.”
The Marshals told Aker they were there to collect a $1,500 federal student loan he took out in 1987 and didn’t repay. They arrested him, put him in shackles, and hauled him to the federal court building in downtown Houston, Aker said.
“They put me in a four-by-four cell for about an hour, and then … I was taken before a judge, surrounded by seven Marshals,” he told the news site. “I just couldn’t believe that I was standing before the court with no rights read to me, no legal representation, and I’m being told I owe $1,500. I just couldn’t believe it.”
After verifying that Aker did not receive a notice of default, Texas Congressman Gene Green explained to Fox 26 and Aker how the situation came about.
“Our federal resources – our U.S. Marshals and federal court system – are being used, I think, by the private sector,” he said. “A few years ago, Congress allowed the private sector to contract for student loan collections, so you have these private companies who are doing this.”
Aker confirmed a private attorney, not a U.S. Attorney, attended his hearing.
The private debt collectors seek judgements against debtors in federal court, and ask the judges to use the U.S. Marshals Service to compel them to pay.
A source in the local Marshals office told Fox 26 Aker’s arrest is only the beginning.
“I was told by sources with the U.S. Marshals Service that they have 1,200 to 1,500 more arrests right here in our community that they will make for old student loan debt,” Fox News reporter Isiah Carey said as Aker and Green shook their heads in apparent disgust.
The Root highlighted the Fox 26 story, and readers there debated the situation.
“Untrue. A check of the docket of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas shows that Winford Paul Aker was arrested for his failure to appear in court as ordered by a judge. The docket shows that several attempts were made to have him appear as ordered, and the court finally issued a bench warrant for his failure to appear,” Stephen Scapelliti posted.
“He was not arrested for failure to pay his debt. And, by the way, he was ordered to reimburse the court for the cost of sending marshals to compel his appearance.”
“The feds have never considered it a civil matter. Just like court ordered child support … if the parent doesn’t pay they can go to jail,” Cassandra Mosley wrote. “I don’t understand why this is so disturbing … It’s not OK for people to create debt and not repay it, especially when it’s student loans.”
“Casandra it is disturbing because it is unconstitutional to arrest someone for a civil debt … and that includes child support,” Ephraim Gabriel countered. “They just get around it by claiming they are arresting you for violation of a court order and not the actual child support. Both are against the law and result in debtor’s prison.”