8/7/2006Massachusetts: Ex-Criminals Use Police Powers to Seize Cars for Profit
Ex-criminals use official badges and police powers to seize cars for big profit in Massachusetts.
Nearly half of the officials appointed by the city of Boston, Massachusetts to seize automobiles have criminal records. An extensive, four-part Boston Globe investigation into the practices of the city's 186 constables found that 88 of them had been arrested for crimes ranging from shoplifting to forgery and assault with a dangerous weapon. There are between 1500 and 2000 constables throughout the state.
Constables -- and deputy sheriffs who perform a similar function -- are appointed to their position and given the power to arrest and seize property in order to collect debts. The state even issues them badges. Between 2004 and 2005, deputy sheriffs seized 1073 vehicles in four counties (Bristol, Norfolk, Plymouth and Worcester) on behalf of one collection agency, Norfolk Financial.
These collection agencies buy old debt from credit card companies pennies on the dollar and then keep whatever amount they can gain by suing debtors in court. Often notices for the court hearing are mailed to old addresses and the alleged debtor, completely unaware of the proceedings, automatically loses by default.
Armed with this court judgment, constables show up at the actual addresses where the individuals live, usually in the middle of the night, demanding the keys to the car in the driveway under the threat of force. The constable then pockets a fee of $600-900 for taking the car. The car owner is usually left paying two, three or even four times the original debt through all the fees and payments that are assessed. The constables also violate a provision of state law requiring them to return the first $700 of any vehicle sale to the owner.