District Attorneys rent out their letterhead to debt collectors, split the shakedown loot

Over 300 US district attorneys have made arrangements with strong-arm debt collectors, through which the debt collectors send out threatening notices on the DAs' letterhead to people who've allegedly bounced checks, and split the payments they get back (including hefty "service fees" levied by the collectors) with the DAs' offices. Jessica Silver-Greenberg writes in the NYT:

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected.

“The companies are returning thousands of dollars to merchants that is not coming at taxpayer expense,” said Ken Ryken, deputy district attorney with Alameda County.

Consumer lawyers have challenged the debt collectors in courts across the United States, claiming that they lack the authority to threaten prosecution or to ask for fees for classes when no district attorney has reviewed the facts of the cases. The district attorneys are essentially renting out their stationery, the lawyers say, allowing the companies to give the impression that failure to respond could lead to charges, when it rarely does.

“This is guilty until proven innocent,” said Paul Arons, a consumer lawyer in Friday Harbor, Wash., about two hours north of Seattle.

In Prosecutors, Debt Collectors Find a Partner (via Naked Capitalism)

(Image: Noah Berger for The New York Times)



  1. Yeah, this doesn’t have conflict of interest written all over it…

    Maybe some of the DA’s will turn around and go after the debt collectors for violating debt collection laws by partnering with the DA’s in the first place, so the DA’s office can collect an even bigger part of the payments.

    1. Yeah, this doesn’t have conflict of interest written all over it…

      Yeah, but what are you gonna do? Call the cops?

      When the rule of law get taken over by private interests, its time to look elsewhere for a place to live…

    1. Even by that standard, this is just a little blatant. It’s like they don’t even care any more.

      Maybe DAs who rent their stationery like this should be required to wear NASCAR driver-style suits, with the names of their “sponsors” printed on them.

  2. well guilty til proven innocent is so much more convenient, you just have to make the accusation and you can put the burden of proof on them, much simpler that way.

  3. Yet another checkmark on the Life Imitates Snow Crash list. (This specific thing wasn’t in Snow Crash, AFAIK, but that whole general public-sector-becomes-privatized thing is definitely in play.)

    1. The UK the last bastion of impartial law? Like how they allow private, unregulated companies to clamp your car and demand a ransom to unclamp it?

    1. Do you even have to be an attorney to become DA? There are parts of the US where you can be voted in as a judge without any credentials.

  4. Wish the USA could switch from paper, snail-mail checks to bank transfers (and then force the banks to stop fake-delaying and charging excess fees for the transfers). Switching to free fast bank transfers would be good economic infrastructure.

  5. This is just plain disturbing. It is disgusting to see lawmakers and public servants drop down to this level and throw the book down the drain in exchange for a few bucks. There is almost nothing you can do to fight such collectors unless you have the law on your side. Citizens would be helpless.

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