Gurstel Chargo: Welcome to Hell, Merolo and Kulpers [Updated X2]

Minnesota debt-collection mill Gurstel Chargo announces that it has hired two new associate attorneys in Scottsdale, Katherine Merolo and Benjamin S. Kulpers.

I wonder if Merolo and Kulpers know what they’re in for:

I am a recent (now past) employee of this law firm. FDCPA violations happen on a regular basis, and I just wish that more people knew their rights, because suit could be legitimately brought daily against the practices of this firm.

They do not train their employees, and supervision of violations is not a regular practice until suit is brought against them. They are happy as long as the money flows in. Illegal garnishments are regularly sought and granted, and they simply have them reversed when they find out their mistake, without any thought to the harm that comes in the meantime (they tend to favor the end of the month right before many people’s rent comes due).

There are good, honest attorneys that work there who are over-worked in a factory-style practice that does not allow them to properly supervise their practice, but the majority of the lawyers they hire are so young and inexperienced with no supervision or mentorship  that they don’t know what they’re doing, and are under such considerable pressure from above to produce collectible judgments that they resort to questionable tactics with tacit approval from above, as is evidenced by the actions of the attorney in this case.

Debt collection law firms like this one prey on the fact that people in general do not know what rights they have and are so in awe of legal papers served on them (and obviously in such dire financial straits) that they don’t seek legal counsel. And while I admit that there are many plaintiffs in FDCPA cases who are simply working the system, the vast majority of honest-to-goodness violation cases do not get filed because people do not know the law. It’s cases like this that raise public awareness and will hopefully give victims the knowledge to seek legal counsel when they are illegally harassed and intimidated by predatory debt-collection practices.

“Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Merolo, [sic] worked at a mid-sized law firm where she provided documentation review for a variety of litigation matters,” so she should be familiar with being “over-worked in a factory-style practice.”

“While attending law school, Ben clerked for the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.” Having lain down with those dogs, he should be familiar with overbearing, self-righteous, unethical lawyering.

Best of luck, guys.

[Update: Now Gurstel appears to have taken down its “news + articles” page. Cached copy of this particular article is here. Also, it appears that this announcement may have been from some time in 2011, so if they have souls Merolo and Kulpers have quit in disgust by now.]

[Update 2: Kate Merolo writes:

Mr. Bennett,

The information posted in your blog entry entitled “Welcome to Hell, Merolo…” is inaccurate. I would very much appreciate you post a correction and apology and/or remove all references to me completely from any and all blog posts and Twitter posts (and any other posts I am not yet aware of).

The Gurstel press release to which you refer was posted in early 2011. A quick Google search of my name would have lead you to my LinkedIn profile which clearly shows I am not and have not been employed by Gurstel for some time.

I can appreciate your dissatisfaction with a former employer, but there is no reason to involve me. I have moved on with my career.

Please let me know that you have received my email and will take the requested action. It will be very much appreciated.

Regards,
Kate Merolo

]

Meet Gurstel Chargo, “Honest Americans” {updated twice}

{Update 9 August 2013: The Colliers appear to have dismissed their case against Gurstel Chargo. The Stipulation to Dismiss says in part:

2. Gurstel Chargo performed no action that was in violation of the FDCPA;

3. The telephone call referred to inthe Complaint and the central subject of this lawsuit was not made by Gurstel Chargo, any employee or affiliate of Gurstel Chargo, or anyone acting on behalf of Gurstel Chargo; and

4. Plaintiffs agree to take nothing as a result of this action and agree that Gurstel Chargo neither paid anything nor promised anything to reach this agreement and dismissal.

}

From Minnesota law firm Gurstel Chargo’s “what we do” page:

Our practice blend is uniquely designed to provide businesses with financial solutions and asset recovery. Our focus provides sophisticated and occasionally unlikely solutions to our clients fiscally driven matters.

From their meaning-free-mumbo-jumbo-laden “creditors rights” page:

We have developed sophisticated systems and instituted soft-touch collection practices that produce favorable results.

Gurstel Chargo’s response to a disabled veteran trying to recover $6,000 of ungarnishable money that Gurstel Chargo had garnished, after the firm had told a judge that the firm would release the money “right away”:

Fuck you! Pay us your money! You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces your ass. 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 ass off. Too bad; you should have died.

(Courthouse News Service.)

An “unlikely solution”, sure, but “soft-touch”? “sophisticated”?

The veteran, Michael Collier, can now, as it turns out, afford a lawyer. Floyd Bybee of Chandler, Arizona, has filed suit against Gurstel Chargo for, among other things, violating the Fair Debt Collections Act. (Complaint.) Gurstel Chargo is being sued in eight other federal cases in Arizona, Minnesota, and Ohio.

The articles discussing this story describe it as a “debt collector”—which it is—but it’s also a law firm, which means it is held to higher standards. If Gurstel Chargo aren’t already facing grievances over this, they should be.

After all, accountability matters (that link is a must-follow web archive of the page that Gurstel Chargo took down right after I published this post).

{Update: Gurstel Chargo’s lawyer, Andrew D. Parker, says that the Scottsdale lawyer “acted professionally in all of his dealings with Mr. Collier and in the handling of this ease.” In light of the fact that the Colliers have amended their petition to omit the allegation that Gurstel Chargo’s Scottsdale lawyer had told them in the parking lot that they would need to hire a lawyer to get their money back (and that they now attribute that statement to the same legal assistant who told Collier, “fuck you!”), I have no reason to question Parker’s assertion. So I’ve removed that allegation and the unfortunate lawyer’s name from this post.

Parker is confused about who I had said made the “fuck you” statement. That sentence in my original post may have been written in a way that could confuse a careless reader; it should be clear now: it is the firm that Mr. Collier has alleged made the statement—an assertion, by the way, that Parker does not deny.

Parker also claims that my post “has resulted in threats being received against law firm staff.” I doubt that I have that sort of influence; I hope that I don’t. I suspect that it would be more accurate to say that treating a disabled veteran badly has resulted in threats against law firm staff. Which is itself unfortunate, but not attributable to my little blog.}