Carrollwood man says he felt ‘strong-armed’ to pay old $22K debt to HCSO or risk losing his work truck

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – If you have an unsettled debt, you could be in for a harsh surprise as creditors ramp up collection techniques.

Many debtors don’t realize it, but creditors have up to 20 years to collect on a judgment. That means that even if you don’t have the means to pay for an old debt now, a creditor can wait until you have the money to pay – and then pounce.

Frank Vanek of Carrollwood just learned this the hard way, and said he feels it’s not right for creditors to come after debtors so harshly in the middle of a pandemic when money is particularly tight.

Vanek says he awoke last week to a Hillsborough County deputy outside his house, taking the tag off the back of his pickup truck that he uses for work in the construction business.

“He went in my own toolbox, got the screwdriver, took that off, set it up there, proceeded to take all my stuff off the truck. He said he was only going through the toolbox so he could take the stuff out of it and set it up there for me. And I was like, ‘You don’t have any business doing that,'” Vanek recalled. “Repo agents don’t even do all that. They call you…you pay a fee and come get your stuff. They don’t root through your stuff in your driveway.”

Vanek defaulted on a car loan 17 years ago, when he was 18 years old. MacDill Credit Union, now Grow Financial, was awarded a judgment in 2006 but never collected, and the case was essentially closed.

Court documents in the case were destroyed in 2018 because the case had been dormant for so long.

Then comes 2020.

Grow Financial reopened the case and got a judge to issue a writ of execution, ordering HCSO to take property that could be sold to pay off the debt.

Harsh, but perfectly legal.

And effective. The only thing Vanek could do to keep his truck was fork over a certified check to the sheriff’s office.

And get this: with interest, the original judgment of $11,430.49 had ballooned. Interest, plus fees, added up to a whopping $22,597.

Vanek says he felt strong-armed and forked over money he had been saving to buy a house for his children.

With his construction business, he couldn’t let the truck go. He said he had just paid it off last year and he fears the creditor’s attorney knew this.

“I run a construction business so obviously I need it for that and I am an aspiring charter captain. I just got out of sea school, registered with the Coast Guard and you can’t pull a boat with a Honda Civic,” Vanek said.

Attorneys that represent debtors tell Better Call Behnken they’re seeing more creditors pursue old debts. A spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said the office is being ordered to execute these types of levies more often now that the courts are reopened and cases are being heard.

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