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Debt collector's 'abusive' calls caught on tape

A Tampa law firm is suing a Jacksonville business - saying that the man in this picture threatened harm and violence to a man and his family after the customer bounced a check for $300. What do you think? Leave a comment here and let us know.

In a series of answering machine messages obtained by 10 News, an employee of Jacksonville Check Cashers, who identifies himself as "Mickey," can be heard on the tape saying, "When I see you, I'm going to f--- you up."

The recordings are part of a lawsuit filed in Duval County Circuit Court claiming the company violated state laws regulating debt collectors by making harassing phone calls and threatening force and violence.

The three recordings included in the lawsuit were left on the answering machine of customer Jeff Gordon between August 19th and August 29th.

In the messages, Mickey goes on to say, "I will find your sister, your daughter, whoever this Ms. Debra Gordon is. I will find her, and I will find you, and I will f--- you up."

"If it takes me a year, if it takes me two, believe me I will find you," Mickey says in one recording. "When I see you, you're not going to know when I'm coming."

We played the audio for the head of the Florida Attorney General's Office, Economic Crimes Division based in Tampa.

"This is outrageous and completely unacceptable and would be in violation of quite a few laws," said Victoria Butler, who serves as Tampa Bureau Chief for the Attorney General's Office. "We don't have any problem with a company trying to collect a lawful debt in a fair, non-threatening, lawful manner but something like this is way over the top."

Tampa attorney Billy Howard of law firm Morgan amp; Morgan agrees and is the lawyer suing the Jacksonville business, seeking at least $15,000 in damages. The Florida mega-firm is focusing attention on what Howard considers a growing problem of abusive debt collectors nationwide.

"I've never heard a bigger violation of state law. That tape is frightening," said Howard, who has hundreds of pending cases in suit against debt collection companies. He classifies the messages left by "Mickey" as some of the worst he's ever heard.  (Click here for tips from the attorney)   (FL Statute 559.72 listing debt collection rules)  We contacted Jeff Gordon, the man who received the calls after allegedly bouncing a check. He said his family was concerned for their safety and declined our request for an interview.  His attorney says the debt, worth $300, has since been paid, a statement the check cashing business would not confirm.

Police records show Gordon's wife, Debra, called Jacksonville Beach Police on August 31st after a man named Horace Swafford Jr. showed up at her family's home while her husband was at work.  Swafford goes by the nickname "Mickey" and is believed to be the same person heard on the tape. 

"He is at the house and won't leave," said Debra Gordon on a recorded line when she called Jacksonville Beach Police for help.

Bob Peterson is manager of Jacksonville Check Cashers, the company that employs Swafford. Peterson declined repeated requests for an interview but did tell us over the phone that "Mickey" has worked for his company for many years as head of security and collections and has "always been an employee he's been proud of."

In an e-mail sent to 10 Connects, the company wrote the recorded messages deserved "further attention," but managers would not say if there would be any changes in policy regarding debt collection or if "Mickey" had been disciplined.

Jacksonville Check Cashers has six locations across Duval County and has been in business for around 23 years.  We found no records of complaint on file with the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's Office has received no other reported violations about the company's debt collection practices.

Mickey, on the other hand, was fired from his job as an officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office in 2006, accused of using excessive force on a handcuffed suspect. Internal investigation records obtained through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show another officer reported seeing Swafford knee the suspect three times in the head and face. The report indicated the suspect was not resisting arrest and charges against him were later dropped.

Federal court records show Swafford also filed for personal Bankruptcy in March of 2009, claiming $717,000 in total debt, including $13,000 owed on a Home Depot credit card.  He listed having $40 in his checking account and $5 in his savings account.  Court documents also say Swafford had $421,655 in assets, and may have lost money on various investment properties during the nation's crash in housing prices.

But in one of the messages left for Gordon, Swafford seems to lecture the customer on the importance of paying off debts.

"See, a real man realizes he screwed up and then he pays the money back. See, that's not you though. You're a punk," Mickey says in the message. "If you move, you better move to, like, California because I do travel."

We visited Swafford's northwest Jacksonville home where we were promptly told us to go away.

"If you don't leave I'm calling the police," Swafford shouted from his garage, refusing to answer any questions about the phone calls he made.

Swafford's boss, Bob Peterson, e-mailed us later that night to complain about the visit, calling our actions harassment.

The owner of the company, who was later reached in Illinois, had not been made aware of the messages, and was horrified to hear what was said on tape. She told 10 Connects the calls were unacceptable and that, "the problem would be taken care of so it never happens again."  Additional Resources:    Information from Florida's Attorney General  Florida Statutes relating to debt collection Information from the Federal Trade Commission

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