A disabled Army veteran who claims a law firm told him he “should have died” instead of collecting disability payments is suing in federal court.
Michael Collier and his wife, Kim Collier-Dingman, of Maricopa County, Ariz., allege that the Gurstel Chargo law firm and debt collection agency, which has offices in Minnesota, Arizona and Iowa, engaged in “deceptive, unfair and abusive” practices following a judge’s ruling that the firm illegally garnished their funds, according to court documents filed last week in U.S. District Court in Arizona.
The couple and their attorney, Floyd Bybee, who could not be reached for comment, claim the firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits harassment or abuse in the collection of a debt. In April, the collection firm froze $6,143 in Collier-Dingman’s savings account to collect on a defaulted student loan incurred by Collier, who suffered spinal and head injuries while serving in the U.S. Army, according to court documents.
A judge in May ruled that the money be returned since the funds were veteran's benefits that Collier-Dingman received as a result of her husband’s injuries and are exempt from collection.
Collier later contacted the firm to try to get the money back and was told to sue for it, according to his complaint. He also claims, according to the complaint, that he was subjected to a profanity-laced tirade from a legal assistant.
“[Expletive] you! Pay us your money!” the assistant said, according to the complaint. “You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces [you]. 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 [expletive] off. Too bad; you should have died.”
In a statement posted on its website, Gurstel Chargo officials say they have been unable to substantiate the allegations.
“We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm,” the statement reads. “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 penalties for this type of harassment are very stiff.
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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.
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
Frequently the justification for doing nothing is the exaggeration of lesser evils.
I sure hope it turns out to be ANYTHING other than someone actually saying that to a wounded veteran. The part that made my ears perk up was the collection side of the law firm already had a judgement against it for illegally garnishing his disability benefits and ignoring the judges ruling to reinstate the funds.
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