akers“Believe it or not, the US Marshals Service in Houston is arresting people for not paying their outstanding federal student loans.”  So says Fox 26 Houston reporter Isiah Carey.  The problem is, this statement is absolutely false.  Paul Aker owed student loans, and was apparently in default.  Paul Aker was sued for the student loan debt, and a judgment was entered.  Paul Aker was later arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s Service.  From there, a gullible, incompetent or dishonest reporter filled in a few details of his own, ignored the actual facts that were easily available online to anyone, and simply created a story whereby Aker was arrested merely because he was not paying his student loans on time.  Of course, the story then exploded over the internet, as such stories tend to do, and were even picked up by national agencies and reporters who could not be bothered to check out the basic facts before passing them off as the truth.  How did Fox 26 in Houston and their reporter Isiah Carey come up with the false details to make their story when the basic facts are easily available online and virtually any lawyer could have explained the situation to them (had they been interested in the true story)?  Here we go…

Winford P. (Paul) Aker was sued in 2007 by the United States for unpaid federal student loans, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas (click here for the complaint).  Aker did not answer and a Default Judgment was entered on April 17, 2007.  The U.S. then, as is standard, served Aker with a notice of post-judgment deposition and a subpoena.  Aker did not appear and the U.S. filed a Motion to Compel his attendance in 2012 – again, a normal event in a collection lawsuit.  An Order compelling his attendance  was entered on July 18, 2012.  A second Order, noting that Aker continued to evade service, was entered on October 31, 2012 and specifically stated that non-compliance with the Order would result in Aker’s arrest.  Incarceration for noncompliance with a court order is a standard sanction in just about every state and federal court in the country, even in collection cases, so when a party does not even respond to the orders, much less comply, this is the expected outcome.

Aker apparently did not comply or respond to Court orders, and an Order for his arrest was entered on December 14, 2012.  The arrest warrant was served by U.S. Marshals (the normal agency for serving such warrants) this month, and a hearing was held on February 11, 2016.  There is nothing on the docket explaining the delay.  Apparently, there was a resolution, Aker was released and the Court entered an  Order vacating the arrest warrant.  However, Aker was ordered to reimburse the U.S. for the expenses of service the warrant in the amount of $1,258.60.  Another hearing is set for June 24, 2016.  What to these pleadings tell us?  It was a fairly normal collection lawsuit in which the debtor/defendant failed to comply with post-judgment discovery, failed to comply or respond to court orders, and he was arrested.  This would be the usual outcome in Georgia state and federal courts, and the fact that it was a student loan is really not relevant.  It could have been any debt.

The dockets and pleadings of all federal courts are available online, and anyone can get an account and review the documents for a few dollars.  Virtually all news agencies have accounts, and no doubt Fox 26 and reporter Isiah Carey have access.  The reporter could have made a call to any number of lawyers in Houston who could have explained the circumstances.  The true facts do not make a good story, and do not get Carey in the spotlight, so they basically made up a story whereby federal stormtroopers have become debt collectors for overdue student loans.  The story, as reported and as intended, the headline and the first line of the story (quoted at the beginning of this post) were simply false.

Let’s get back to the “raid” of U.S. Marshals armed with automatic weapons.  Although it does not change the fact that the reporter made up the underlying story, the U.S. Marshall’s Office released a statement filling in a few key details:

Since November 2012, U.S. Marshals had made several attempts to serve a show cause order to Paul Aker to appear in federal court, including searching at numerous known addresses. Marshals spoke with Aker by phone and requested he appear in court, but Aker refused. A federal judge then issued a warrant for Aker’s arrest for failing to appear at a Dec. 14, 2012, hearing,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday.

“It is the responsibility of the U.S. Marshals to serve civil processes at direction of the federal courts. These civil processes include summonses for individuals to appear in court to address delinquent federal loans, including student, agricultural and other loans made by federal agencies.”

When officials made contact with him on Feb. 11, the U.S. Marshals said that they only sent two agents to his door. They say that when they attempted to arrest him, Aker resisted and retreated back into his home.

The situation escalated when Aker verbally said to the deputies that he had a gun. After Aker made the statement that he was armed, in order to protect everyone involved, the deputies requested additional law enforcement assistance. Additional deputy marshals and local law enforcement officers responded to the scene. After approximately two hours, the law enforcement officers convinced Aker to peacefully exit his home, and he was arrested without further incident.

The bold emphasis is mine. Not quite the story intended by Fox 26, is it?

Aker 2At least as of the date of this post, Isiah Carey appears proud of the fact that his fabrication has gotten him some attention. Credibility and basic honesty are obviously not as important to the reporter or his employer, or the many reporters and agencies who negligently or intentionally spread the false story.  According to his updates, he has been reduced to whining about the “haters” and referring to “sources” who talk about all the alleged arrest warrants out there for unpaid student loans (all of which would be … surprise… available online).

There are many legitimate debates over the outrageous student loan problem, post-judgment collection methods, and even the militarization of our police forces.  A made up story from a reporter just looking for his 15 minutes is not the avenue for these discussions.

Photo Credit: Fox 26 Video Cap