May 15, 2013 | 165 comments
April 9, 2013 | 42 comments
March 1, 2013 | 50 comments
February 20, 2013 | 109 comments
February 18, 2013 | 73 comments
He’s smart, he’s funny, and he “steals” cars legally. (He’s also the best friend you never knew you had.) Our July-August issue’s cover story.
(Page 4 of 6)
And four: be warned that nothing that TFA members say about being careful to do everything legally and avoid any breach of the peace applies if the repo man who comes to your home is some roughlooking character with a sign on his truck that says something like (to cite a few names favored by some of the macho outfits)—Da Dawg Recovery, Guido’s Repo, Nightstalker, Predator, or Mad Dog Repo.
In a case that made national news just over a year ago, an ex-Marine and part-time preacher killed a man when attempting to repossess a car outside a mobile home at the end of a winding dirt road in Halsell, Alabama. Hearing noise just outside his bedroom window at 2:30 a.m., the lone occupant—a retired railroad worker—picked up a gun and went out to confront the intruder. Shots were exchanged and the retiree was killed. Though claiming selfdefense—saying he had only fired when fired upon—the repo agent was charged with murder. Since then, in another botched operation, two other repo men from the same company (not a TFA member) were shot, one fatally.
Across the country, there are thousands (no one knows the exact number) of wrecking and towing companies that do a sideline business in car repossession. In all but a few states, the repo business is unregulated—with no minimal training requirements, no restrictions against hiring ex-cons, and no rules forcing companies to carry accident and liability insurance to make restitution to those who might be damaged by their actions. Ron Brown, TFA’s chairman, estimates that that there may be 50 outfits of the “Two Men and a Tow Truck” variety for every one of the professionally oriented companies represented in TFA and two other professional associations, which are more overlapping than competitive, with some firms belonging to all three organizations. TFA makes training, bonding, and insurance a condition of licensing.
Though a small minority in numbers, the professionally oriented companies handle a disproportionate share of the car repo business, perhaps more than 50 percent. They work for banks, the automakers’ credit bureaus, and other lenders under contracts that give them a whole or partial franchise for doing the lender’s repossession work within a certain geographic area. The contracts stipulate a set fee per vehicle, which varies widely—anywhere from $200 to $1,000 being the normal range.
In addition, standard contracts often stipulate other fees for “skip-chasing,” which means doing the detective work needed to find someone who has disappeared with a collateralized asset (in repo lingo, a “skip” is someone who has skipped town). The farther behind in his payments a borrower becomes, the more likely he is to have moved and the harder he is to find. Up until a few years ago, most lenders commonly pulled the plug on borrowers who were 30 or 60 days late. Now they are allowing 90 and 120 days before initiating foreclosure proceedings. “Ninety days is an eternity in this business,” Altes complains. “It makes it extremely difficult to find people.”
One of two main selling points that TFA members have in dealing with lenders—and seeking payment at the upper end of the fee range—is the breadth and cooperative nature of the organization, with a list of members in every state. If, for instance, Ron Brown, in Oklahoma City, skip-traces an owner and car to Houston, he arranges for Millard Land, his good friend and fellow TFA member in Houston, to repossess the car and send it back to Oklahoma City.
The second selling point is the group’s dedication to professionalism, which means that its members are far less likely than their untrained and shady counterparts to reflect badly on a lending institution, and expose it to the possibility of major lawsuits. Any plaintiff is likely to regard a big bank (even one that has needed billions of dollars in TARP funds) as a far richer target than the little repo man it has hired to do its dirty work. There have been a number of cases of hefty settlements against banks that failed to do proper due diligence in contracting with unlicensed and untrained recovery agencies. In Brown’s way of phrasing it: “Bank of America is very concerned about who is representing it in the driveway. If he is called to the witness stand in a lawsuit, they don’t want him to be some toothless biker dude.”
Nevertheless, it has become increasingly difficult for the professional repo agencies to maintain high standards and premium prices as the lenders themselves have fallen into perilous financial straits. Over the past year, their collections departments have gotten tougher with established repo agencies—slashing fees, placing more work on a contingency basis (no car, no payment, regardless of the expense incurred in the search process), and more and more willing to farm the repossession work out to lowerpriced but less qualified companies.
Thus, even if revenues have been going up, margins have been coming down, and many TFA members complain that they are losing market share to the fly-by-night companies with almost no overhead. Altes predicts a surge in “violent, uneducated repossessions.” Skip-Chasing Casper, the
Skip-Chasing Casper, the Disappearing Con Man
One of those who has become disenchanted with car repo work (which accounts for upwards of 80 percent of revenues for most TFA members) is Ray Crocker, 62, the president of American Locators Recovery, in Nashville, and a TFA board member. At 6’3” and a heavily muscled 275 pounds, Crocker looks like a retired NFL lineman. On the theory (which I heard in some old cowboy movie) that you should always try to take out the biggest guy first when venturing into a bar that might be filled with unfriendly people, he was the first person I approached upon crashing the party.
Years ago, he worked for Ford Motor Credit Corporation as a lead supervisor in their collections department. Today he refuses to do business with the company because of their insistence that repo agents work on a strict contingency basis. That has reduced the incentive for undertaking difficult cases at the same time that increased competition from unlicensed operatives has killed profit margins in the more routine work. Accordingly, he has increasingly shifted his focus to more remunerative work in repoing office and construction equipment. Like Ron Brown and others at the top end of the repo business, Crocker is a licensed private investigator who prides himself on his investigative skills, which he regards as different, and superior, to those found in ordinary law enforcement.
To illustrate the difference, he told me the story of skip-chasing “Casper,” the chosen name of an amorous con man and biker who preyed on single working women. Casper would move in with a lady, dazzle her with his charms for several weeks, then gather up her jewelry, appliances, and other valuables, take them to a pawn shop, and disappear. He moved from city to city in this way. Several of his victims testified to his prowess on the popular Montel Williams television show.
Crocker had a contract to repossess Casper’s motorcycle. Knowing his interest in the con man, a Nashville detective invited him to join him in interviewing one of Casper’s victims. Crocker went but was furious at the way the detective ran the interview. When they got back to the police station, he told him, “I hope you never have to go out on another interview. You don’t know how to ask the right questions.” This outburst prompted an angry phone call from the district attorney in Nashville ordering Crocker to “stay the f—- out of the case. We don’t want you muddy ing up our investigation.” To which Crocker replied, “I’ve found people the FBI couldn’t begin to find. You can be sure I’ll find Casper way before you do.”
Crocker’s next move was to phone the victim for a quick follow-up interview. He asked her if she had a cell phone. She did. Did she have her last cell phone bill? Yes. Well then, Crocker told her, he’d like her to take a pen and cross out all the itemized calls on the bill that she knew she had made.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?